From the Herald http://www.theherald.co.uk/
The Scottish media stands accused of institutionalised racism this week, so how does it plead? A genuine mistake is forgivable. But journalists did not just get it wrong in the case of the missing Scots schoolgirl, who popped up in Lahore, Pakistan. Some failed to check the facts at all. Worse, they are accused of ignoring Scottish Asian contacts who knew the father, Sajad Ahmed Rana. They preferred to perpetrate a cliche of the evil Pakistani snatching his daughter to present her as some kind of matrimonial prize.
The Herald can hold its head up in being one newspaper that did not reprint the line about 12-year-old Molly/Misbah being forced into an arranged marriage with a man twice her age. From where did this rumour emerge? A glance at the family suggests it was unlikely, given the father's social position and the fact she has elder siblings who chose their own marriage partners. Allegations about the mother's lifestyle were also fed to journalists last week – but these remain private for legal reasons, while the father's reputation was trashed. Might this be because the mother is white and the father Pakistani? Obviously that was not the intention of editors or their staffs. Unfortunately, that is not how Scotland's Asian and Islamic community views things, and who can blame them?
Perhaps the "first glance" version of the story was just too good to check. We had the little girl with the pretty Scottish name on the romantic Hebridean island. "Molly Campbell", we were told, was snatched away from the cosy community she knew as home, leaving behind a distraught and loving mother. Except, "Molly Campbell" was actually Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, the name she had been using for most of her life. Campbell is the name of her mother's partner and appears to have been imposed on the child against her will. Lewis, a beautiful island with friendly inhabitants, was not home, either to Misbah or her mother. The girl, it appears, was taken there to separate her from the father, brothers and sister with whom she had lived all her life.
This brings us to the second aspect of the cliche: the loving mother/avenging father. It is quite clear, from what his children tell us, that Mr Rana is a loving and responsible parent – whatever his relationship with his ex-wife. One cannot speculate on what goes on between a man and woman during the painful, often ugly, disintegration of a marriage. So we may never know why Louise Campbell was so determined to prevent paternal access to Misbah. But was she acting in her daughter's best interests?
Common sense tells us stability, continuity and security are crucial to children. Misbah's life with her mother and Mr Campbell in the past year appears to have lacked some of these ingredients. Here was a child brought up with her siblings in the Pakistani communities of Glasgow and Blackburn, as well as Lahore itself. Suddenly, she is relocated to remote parts of Scotland – first Stranraer, then Stornoway. Despite Lewis's celebrated but tiny population of Gaelic-speaking Asians, it's fair to say that the Hebrides and Stranraer are not exactly multiracial melting pots. Adoptive parents must jump through hoops in order to ensure that a non-white child remains in touch with its own culture. Does a biological parent have no obligations at all in this area?
Misbah's mother was a devout Muslim convert during her marriage and sent her children to Islamic schools. She has now rejected that faith – as she has every right to do in this country. But she has no right to force her child to emulate that decision. Yesterday, the girl was reported as saying that her life with the Campbells was a "living hell", and that she was under pressure to reject her faith. This will play well in the Pakistani family court deciding her fate next week. Personally, I would not choose the life of a Muslim woman in Pakistan, where Sharia law restricts sexual freedom for even the educated middle class. However, I might feel differently had I lived with Islam all my life, if Pakistan was the place I considered home and where I was surrounded by a loving and stable family. Misbah's choice should be respected.
Children are not possessions, to be moved around for the gratification of parents. Omar, an elder brother, yesterday claimed the mother left the family when the girl was five – and had agreed that the father should raise the children while she returned to Scotland with her lover. It is, therefore, puzzling why Mrs Campbell was awarded guardianship of Misbah by the Scottish courts. Perhaps they, like the media, should examine their prejudices in this respect.
One cannot doubt Ms Campbell's love for her daughter. Her distress before the cameras last week, shaking uncontrollably, was painful to witness. Yet she spoke of her own loss, the gap that "Molly" had left. By contrast, the Lahore press conference focused on Misbah's needs – her education, her love for her siblings and father, her desire for her own family and Islamic identity. As a mother myself, I can hardly imagine the anguish Ms Campbell must feel – being estranged from all four of her children with Mr Rana. Yet hard as it sounds, the welfare and wishes of the children must come before their mother's emotional needs.
So what of the Scottish media? I believe it will have learned from this sorry tale. It will be reminded of the need to "assume nothing" and ensure basic fact-checking, something that requires the manpower to canvass a wide variety of sources. The media must also improve and extend its links with the Muslim community at every level. This point is made by Osama Saeed, whose blog – www.osamasaeed.org – offers an interesting Islamic perspective on a range of current events. Mr Saeed, a man with whom I am not always in agreement, asks why more Muslims do not work in the Scottish media. He argues that this would improve public understanding of bigger international issues, not just this particular family tragedy.
Too often, white journalists simply parachute into communities after, say, a terror raid. They ask the same old questions, then leave – often none the wiser. They miss the complexities and variety of opinion that will exist among Muslims, just as with any other group. So reactionary sections of the media can paint the entire community as sympathetic to terrorists. Or we have the politically-correct tendency, which repeats the mantra that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and every detained man is a victim of injustice. Neither position is particularly helpful, subtle or intelligent. The lack of Asian reporters is not, however, a simple matter of overt discrimination. I have read the CVs of many budding young journalists over the years – I can think of very few from Scotland's Asian community. They do not come forward. Is this because they fail to apply for the media courses that feed newspapers, radio and television? If so,why? Do they view the media, like the police or the army, as "not for them". Perhaps it's time the media tried to find out, and – as with the police and army – attempted to do something about it. It would increase the authority of our journalism – and prevent future embarrassment.