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Draw back the veil

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Friday, 27 October 2006


The stabbing death of a Gold Coast woman in a domestic dispute that was apparently sparked by a daughter's wish to convert from her Islamic faith is a clear example of why the debate on integration and Australian values is one worth having.

There will be many leaders, both from Islamic and academic circles, who will condemn this death and assure us all that it was extraordinary and had nothing to with Islam. They would be right, but not entirely.

The tragic episode highlights a common trend in large numbers of migrants, especially those from South Asian and Arab backgrounds.

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Many have no desire to interact in any way with mainstream culture unless it is absolutely necessary. Their attitude is that they have sacrificed a great deal to leave their homes, families and ancestry. They are here to further their children's education in order to give them a better chance in life as well as send money back home to help their extended families. Their purposes are economic and educational.

These are noble, loving and understandable wishes. But the condition of these wishes is that their children are not to be corrupted by what the parents see as the horrible stain of Western life, primarily its moral degradation. This is symbolised by the sexual freedoms, drugs and unfettered individual expression.

To ensure these wishes, parents are careful their children do not take part in social events or extra-curricular activities for fear they will be exposed to the opposite sex or drugs. The world beyond is strictly for education or work, nothing more. They want to have their cake and to eat it, too.

This appears to have been the case in the Hussain family, where the daughter was left at a friend's house during school camps.

Having grown up in Sydney's Bangladeshi community, I have seen many instances of parents openly rejecting their children because they chose to marry a non-Muslim, effectively disowning them. This is not limited to Muslims of course, and can occur in other cultures.

Only last month I attended a Sydney wedding of two Indian-Australians, who were both Hindus, during which the groom's parents refused to attend because the bride was of a lower caste. While it sounds ridiculous, this kind of thing is occurring in 21st century Australia.

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But a death like that on the Gold Coast is something else altogether.

Anyone who has worked in criminal or emergency services knows these events often develop from innocuous beginnings, such as verbal stoushes and personal insults.

What is unique about Muslim communities is that the paradigm of honour, shame, and the obsession with saving face are at the core of their identities. This is a derivation from the clan, village-based groups most have migrated from.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on October 16, 2006.



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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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