Powerful traditions that divide us with cultural barriers

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From: William Snowden, Butterbowl Gardens, Leeds.

In a recent article (Yorkshire Post, May 13), Nick Ahad suggested that British Muslims should not be judged collectively, but as “a set of individuals with differing beliefs, ideas and ways of life”.

An inalienable right, or a forlorn hope? Certainly, an ideal. The English poet, John Donne, astutely observed that “no man is an island”. It would be naive or disingenuous to under-estimate the way in which powerful influences like race and religion, culture, customs and conventions coalesce to mould, shape and circumscribe the life and development of the individuals.

When I was at Park Lane College, in Leeds, a Muslim girl of Pakistani origin told me that her family would “not allow” her to have an English boyfriend. Indeed, her future was preordained: an “arranged marriage” to a Muslim boy in Pakistan, whom she had never met.

Her English girl contemporaries expressed their exasperation with her acquiescence, but she was resigned.

There was a consensus that “future generations” of Muslim girls would not be so compliant. That was over 40 years ago, but nothing has changed.

Those that do find the courage and resources to resist are often ostracised, persecuted or even killed for bringing “disgrace” and “dishonour” on their families – so-called “honour killings.”

It is often claimed that cultural traditions must be honoured. But it seems to me that there is a very fine distinction between an “arranged” and a “forced” marriage – between meek acquiescence and brave resistance. This “tradition” also perpetuates the insularity and isolation of the Muslim community.

Cross-cultural interaction, and intermarriage, are key components of racial integration; because shared experiences challenge our conceptions and misconceptions, and foster mutual respect and understanding.

It is only, perhaps, when cultural barriers are breached, and intermarriage becomes acceptable and commonplace, that all people, irrespective of their beliefs, will be treated with due respect, and live harmoniously in a truly tolerant and integrated society.