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Murder and Meaning

The parents of Shafilea Ahmed were recently found guilty and imprisoned for her murder.

Steve Latham

They at first tried to make her abandon her westernised lifestyle and stop dating boys. When that didn’t work, and she refused a forced marriage, they killed her.

For them, the shame of seeing their daughter living a loose moral code and betraying their traditional, cultural, and religious values, was greater than the pain of murdering their own daughter.

But matters were not clear-cut. The father himself, in his youth, had enjoyed the freedoms of the west. This imposition of traditional ethics was therefore a hypocritical act as well as brutal and vicious.

How can parents do this to their own child?

I only know the details from press reports. However, the case exemplifies the dilemmas of migrant families, navigating the problems of raising children in a relativistic, hedonistic and materialistic culture.

Traditional, religious values are undermined by the all-pervasive, media-saturated, western culture.

Parents trying to educate their children according to communal values are on a collision course with modernity, with its own principles of free choice, individualism and secular pluralism.

Marx wrote that capitalism removes the halo from all sacred, values. What replaces them is the market-place. The capitalist system flattens-out all differences. Consumerism reduces all choices to personal preferences of brand loyalty.

Young people growing up in the west only achieve approval from peers, and from social agencies, if they conform to our pattern of atomised decision-making, performed by deracinated individuals decoupled from communal values.

And their parents are evaluated by their willingness to allow their children to do this.

What kind of freedom is this? Secular liberalism is a loaded game where only one set of values is in practice encouraged, despite the lip-service paid to pluralism.

The situation exposes the intolerance of so-called tolerance, which refuses legitimacy and free social space for alternative formulations of desirable social ends and lifestyles.

Social approval, from western friends, is available only to those who adopt the same western lifestyle.

The wearing of the hijab is supported only as long as it is reframed as the free choice of a sovereign individual, even a feminist gesture against objectification, perhaps a fashion statement by an inner city teenager.

Certainly not if it is perceived as the assertion of a radical Muslim identity by a non-conforming Islamist.

Libertarian sexual ethics are so much regarded as the unquestioned norm in our society, that anyone who does not fall in with expectations about dating and sexual intercourse are seen as somehow missing out, a strange exceptions from another planet.

These dilemmas also apply to other conservative cultural communities, who deviate from the liberal consensus. More understanding must be offered to such minorities, to help them negotiate the transition they and their children experience in western society.

Meanwhile, new hybrid identities are developing among the teen subcultures of the major cities. They are forming their own solutions, creative re-expressions of fresh identities. Neither one nor the other, or both-and.

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