Freethinking Stokie

A blog by a British, Pakistani, North Staffs woman providing analysis and discussion on the issues that our local media struggle with.

Anjem Choudary recruits Stoke’s youth while in Pakistan…

…Pakistanis come together to make beautiful, beautiful music.

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BBC Today: Bradford’s cousin marriage boom

‎”Bradford has three times the national rate among children for disabilities including deafness and blindness.”

“On the face of it the risk is not great – a 4% risk of having a child with an abnormality if you marry a cousin, compared with 2% among the general population. But with **repeated** cousin marriage, the risks stack up in families with sometimes devastating results.”

Click here to read the entire article.

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Forced Marriages – Sara’s story (Urdu with English subtitles).

Forced marriage, REPORT IT (anonymously if you wish), SPEAK OUT and SHARE this video.

Below is one of a series of animated documentaries produced by the British High Commission Islamabad.

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“Hidden Victims: The Plight of Pakistan’s Child Incest Survivors” by Habiba Nosheen

“An alarming number of children, especially girls, are abused by older family members, who know that their country’s legal system and social mores make it unlikely that they will be punished.”

Click here to read the entire article and watch a video interview of a Pakistani woman who is an incest survivor.

Unfortunately, what is described in Habiba Nosheen’s article is not necessarily limited to Pakistanis living in Pakistan if the revelations of my Pakistani friends in the UK are anything to go by.

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When fundamentalists strike, women’s rights are always the first to go.

When we politely remain silent in front of fundamentalist inspired thinking, we are facilitating people to reach the final step – terrorism. As outlined in my post on Dr. Fouzia Saeed, Saeed (a Pakistani academic) sees suicide bomb attacks and bomb blasts as step 10, the final step of terrorism. She comments that steps 1 to 9 are what facilitate that terrorism and these are the steps that Stoke’s Muslim communities need to pay heed to.


Muslim communities in Stoke-on-Trent seem to be all too happy to give away the rights of Muslim women in a plight to seek approval from their peers. A man’s honour is judged by how effectively he manages to control the women of his household. Whether it’s the right to move freely, to go swimming in a mixed area, to hang out with friends, to educate oneself, Stoke’s patriarchal Muslims will restrict their females from doing it. All that matters is what the neighbours think. Not what is right, what is wrong, or what is truly in the best interests of the family member that they seek to subjugate in exchange for status in the community. They will agree with the fundamentalists that for a woman to be considered “virtuous” and a “good Muslim” she should neither have nor express  sexuality in any way and she mustn’t ever answer back to her father or her elders in general, no matter how unjust or cruel their words or actions might be. A Muslim woman in Stoke these days must tolerate the possibility of her husband wanting to engage in polygamy and must abide by what the men in her family tell her. End of story.


What people don’t realise is, this is precisely how it all starts. In countries like Iran and Afghanistan, the fundamentalists first attacked the rights of women and the men were like “it’s ok, it’s only women”. When men became the target of these fundamentalist human rights encroachments, only then did the patriarchs realise what they’d done. Only when men were beaten up in the street by fundamentalists for wearing a t-shirt or for not LOOKING Islamic enough, did those men realise what a Pandora’s box they had opened. The same will be the case in Stoke’s Muslim communities. The fathers, brothers, husbands and uncles who are today giving in to the ideologies of people who seek to tell them how the women in their lives should be behaving, will one day be the victims of their own moral cowardice.


The fact that we live in a relatively stable society with (mostly) well constructed laws does not mean that fundamentalists are not a credible threat to our freedoms. THEY ARE. The UK Government is IGNORING the fact that when one goes to a Sharia Council affiliated mosque to get an Islamic divorce that men are being charged £200 and women are being charged £400 AND told to give up their dowry! It’s not legally binding, but the leaders of Muslim communities have so much influence and power over people that they dictate what is the Muslim way to live. British Muslims know that if they don’t submit, they will become outcasts. The laws of the UK are failing to act against this kind of discrimination whilst hiding behind the veneer of “religious accommodation”. In a few decades time, there will be more Muslims in the political sphere since the Muslim population of Britain has already gone from 1.9 million in 2004 to 2.6 million in 2010. That’s a 36.7% increase. Muslims being in politics is not a problem, however the views that these Muslims have is most definitely a problem. Most of Stoke’s Muslims I meet are anti woman, anti-gay, anti-education, pro-conspiracy theories, anti-freedom, anti-democracy, anti-free speech, anti-music, anti-British, anti-anything that embodies a genuine willingness to see humanity in others, yet people like me are the ones who are told to “watch what we say”. What kind of a nightmare are we living in? And what kind of nightmare are we creating for future generations by allowing fundamentalists to hijack our lives without even challenging them?

Women’s rights are ALWAYS the first to go, because fundamentalists know that nobody cares about women enough to speak up about their rights. They know that most societies are led by patriarchy and misogyny and that couldn’t be truer of Stoke’s Muslim communities.  Republicans in the US who know that Evangelicals don’t give a rat’s ass about women’s rights, use this apathy and lack of ethics to keep attacking women’s healthcare, cancer care and reproductive healthcare services. Stoke’s fundamentalists act similarly. They know that many of Stoke’s Muslims hold patriarchal and misogynistic views, that verbal, emotional and physical abuse of women is tolerated and concealed within these communities. As long as these views which perceive women to be inferior beings go unchallenged, the fundamentalists’ rhetoric will continue to penetrate Stoke’s Muslim communities at deeper and deeper levels.


Mark my words people, if Stoke’s Muslims (religious or just cultural) do not physically organise and mobilise against fundamentalists in Stoke, if people do not speak out against those who accept fundamentalist encroachment on basic human rights, we will have more and more terror cells being found in Stoke-on-Trent.
Bomb blasts are the final step, and we all have a responsibility to prevent people from reaching that final step. When we fail to challenge the yobs that distribute hateful content outside mosques or when we fail to challenge those who call a handshake haraam and tell us how to discipline our daughters, we are no better than the mafia wife that watches silently and thus facilitates the bloody end. If the ideology isn’t challenged, how can we condemn a person when they reach step 10?


It’s much easier to stop a steam train when it’s just started moving, not when it’s gained momentum.  There needs to be a comprehensive and organised effort against fundamentalists in Stoke. Fouzia Saeed is 200% correct.
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Terrorism: Pakistani academic Dr. Fouzia Saeed tells it like it is.

Dr. Fouzia Saeed is a Pakistani social scientist with a PhD from the University of Minnesota, USA. She is the author of “Taboo! The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area,” based on 8 years of field research among prostitutes in Pakistan. Here she is, telling it straight on Kamran Shahid’s (usually less than average quality) show. This particular episode is worth a watch since it offers quite an insight into the anti-fundamentalist v fundamentalist voices in Pakistan. The video is embedded below. 

Urdu transliteration:

“Hum bomb phatney ko aur khudkash hamlaun ko terrorism ka naam dete hain lekin mein samajti hoon ke wo duswa (10th) step hai. Step 1 se step 9 thak ideology, jo ek khas tarha ki soch hai, jo uss inteha ko paunchti hai, main uss tamam soch ko bhi terrorism mein shaamil karti hun. Hamare yahan hota he ye ke ek (1) se nau (9) thak laug sab khushi khushi saath chalte hain. Jab bomb phat-tha hai to phir ushi ko sab condemn kardetey hain.”

English translation:

“We call bomb blasts and suicide bombing terrorism, but I believe that these acts are just the 10th step. From Step 1 to Step 9 it is ideology, a particular  [accepted] way of thinking, that takes people to that extreme, I include all of that thought process into this “terrorism” too. What happens [in our society] is that from step 1 to 9 everyone happily gets along [with the person who is thinking in an extreme manner].  Then, when a bomb explodes, suddenly everyone turns around and condemns it [the 10th step].”

Forward to 23 mins 30

Dr. Saeed is well known in the activist circles of Pakistan’s social movement, having worked for decades on women’s issues, in particular those linked to violence against women, prostitution, women in the entertainment business, women’s mobility and sexual harassment. Her work on violence against women spans over 20 years and includes founding the first women’s crisis center in Pakistan in 1991. Her earlier work with the Folk and Traditional Heritage Institute (Lok Virsa) led to the book, “Women in Folk Theater”.

Find out more about Fouzia Saeed at

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“Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women in the world” by Zara Jamal

Brides-to-be wait during a mass wedding ceremony in Karachi. SOURCE: Reuters

This brilliant article in The Atlantic, tells the firsthand stories of six poor, working women of different ages, backgrounds, and life experiences in the Pakistani city of Karachi, where the author of the article grew up and met them. In the interviews, the women tell us about their lives and struggles within a cycle of poverty and, often times, sexual abuse and violence.

It’s amazing how  so many of these deeply misogynistic and abusive attitudes towards women have been transported all the way to England, more specifically, to Stoke-on-Trent.

“According to a 2011 poll of experts by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll, Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women in the world. It cited the more than 1,000 women and girls murdered in “honor killings” every year and reported that 90 percent of Pakistani women suffer from domestic violence.

Westerners usually associate the plight of Pakistani women with religious oppression, but the reality is far more complicated. A certain mentality is deeply ingrained in strictly patriarchal societies like Pakistan. Poor and uneducated women must struggle daily for basic rights, recognition, and respect. They must live in a culture that defines them by the male figures in their lives, even though these women are often the breadwinners for their families. “

“With female literacy at 36%, many women are too uneducated to know their rights.”

Click here to read the entire article.


“A Man’s Honour Lies Between the Legs of a Woman” by Tarek Fatah

In Khaled Hosseini’s soul-piercing novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, the character Nana, a poor unwed mother, tells her five-year-old daughter, Mariam: “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

Hosseini’s novel is about life in Afghanistan, but in the 30 words above he sums up the way men govern the lives of women across most of the Muslim world. Like Mariam, millions of Muslim girls are told very early in life by their mothers that their place in society is one of submission; submission, not to God, but to man.” 

Click here to read the entire article via The Huffington Post.

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Some Urdu slogans that British Pakistanis need to know about

It’s difficult to challenge misogyny, patriarchy, fundamentalism and the subjugation of women when you don’t possess the language to challenge it. Without words for particular terms, Pakistani communities who speak predominantly Urdu/Punjabi and other dialects, cannot adequately discuss and challenge damaging phenomena within their communities. A Pakistani feminist friend of mine from Lahore has come up with the following slogans. They are provided with their Urdu transliteration and English translation. Feel free to download/print these and put them on noticeboards, blogs, websites, Facebook, distribute them and where appropriate to do so, put them in community centres, mosques and share them with your family and friends. If you do print and display these slogans, it would be great to hear what peoples’ reactions were. This is not compulsory of course, but if you’d like to email me about your endeavour, I would love to hear about it! Email:

Transliteration: Hum nizaam-e-pidri aur auraton ki mehkoomi ke khilaaf hain. Hum aurat aur mard ki mukammal siyaasi aur samaaji musawaat ki himayat karte hain. *** Translation: We are opposed to patriarchy and the subjection of women. We support the full political and cultural equality of men and women.

Transliteration: Hum nizaam-e-pidri aur auraton ki mehkoomi ke khilaaf hain.
Hum aurat aur mard ki mukammal siyaasi aur samaaji musawaat ki himayat karte hain.
Translation: We are opposed to patriarchy and the subjection of women.
We support the full political and cultural equality of men and women.

Transliteration: Humein mazhabi bunyaad parasti ke haathon auraton peh dabao na manzoor hai!

Transliteration: Humein mazhabi bunyaad parasti ke haathon auraton peh dabao na manzoor hai!
Hum un tamaam bunyaad parast aur inteha pasand mazhabi garohon ki mukhalifat karte hain jo mazhab ke naam par auraton ki azaadi, un ki izzat-e-nafs aur un ke huqooq peh hamla karna chahte hain. Hum auraton ko insaaf dilaane ki muhim mein apni jiddo jehad zuroor jaari rakhein ge.
Translation: We will not accept the suppression of women at the hands of religious fundamentalism!
We oppose all those fundamentalist and extremist religious groups that seek to attack women's freedoms, dignity and rights in the name of religion. We will certainly keep up our efforts in this mission to deliver justice to women.

Transliteration: Hum auraton ke khilaaf tashaddud ki sakht mulaamat karte hain!

Transliteration: Hum auraton ke khilaaf tashaddud ki sakht mulaamat karte hain!
Woh mu'ashra jo auraton ko aziyyat pauhanchane wale mardon ko na sirf bardaasht kare, balke un ki ziyadtiyon ki baqa'ida ijaazat de, kis mun se khud ko qabil-e-izzat samajh sakta hai? Hum aise zaalim, beghairat aur zann bezaar samaaji nizaam ko qat'ai qubool nahin karein ge.
Translation: We harshly condemn violence against women!
How can a society that not only tolerates men who abuse women, but regularly enables their misdeeds, possibly consider itself worthy of respect? We will absolutely not accept this cruel, dishonourable and misogynistic social order.

Transliteration: Nizaam-e-pidri ke tehat muqarrarah jinsi kirdaaron ko khatam kiya jaye!

Transliteration: Nizaam-e-pidri ke tehat muqarrarah jinsi kirdaaron ko khatam kiya jaye!
Jinsi kirdar mehaz aik samaaji banaawat hain, jo keh donon mard aur aurat ko mukammal insaan banne se rokte hain. Aur jiss daur mein aurat har shau'be mein khud ko qaabil saabit kar chuki hai, yeh jinsi kirdar insaani taraqqi ke raaste main awwal tareen rukaawat ban chuke hain.
Translation: Abolish patriarchal gender roles!
Gender roles are simply a social construction that prevent both men and women from becoming full human beings. And in an era in which women have proved themselves capable in every field, these gender roles have become the foremost obstacle in the way of human progress.

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We’re not all Mosqueteers Mr. Sassi!

***UPDATE: Mr. Sassi contacted me stating that one of his team would contact me. Indeed someone did contact me, but would not allow me to contribute to The Sentinel without being photographed and thus disclosing my identity.***

It’s quite telling that The Sentinel is so eager to publish the views of self appointed male, Muslim “community leaders” as though they speak on behalf of every British Asian and/or Muslim in Stoke-on-Trent. Furthermore, The Sentinel will publish such immense contributions as this  (I am of course being ironic), but will completely ignore requests to publicise a blog (this blog) by a non-religious British Asian woman, from Stoke-on-Trent, who has lived within the Muslim community, who wants to encourage mobilisation of her community against fundamentalism and its encroachment of human rights.

I’ve tweeted and I’ve emailed The Sentinel on more than one occasion now. No response. It seems that a real attempt at inspiring moral courage  isn’t interesting enough for The Sentinel. Publishing articles which imply that all that Stoke’s Asians and Muslims care about is religion or mosques, is more important for the circulation of the paper than publishing the stories of the weaker, unheard voices that are being crushed by patriarchy within their communities. Bizarre. I guess Mike Sassi (Editor in Chief) thinks that anything that deviates from the devout, segregrated, insular, thoroughly male caricature of Asian Muslims in Stoke-on-Trent would give his readership brain-ache. Somehow, I doubt this. We all want honest and complete news. We’re tired of hearing what we hear all time. Yes, the BNP hates brown people and the Muslim fundamentalists hate everyone – particularly women – but we need to hear the untold stories, particularly in a city that is so rife with racial and religious tensions.

How many ethnic minority staff and women does The Sentinel currently employ at senior positions? When I look at the list of Staff Writers, all I see are Caucasian men. Where are the women Mr. Sassi? Where are the ethnic minorities? Perhaps this goes some way in explaining why the view of ethnic minority women is so trivial to The Sentinel in its reporting.

Would it hurt The Sentinel so much to interview women from Stoke’s Asian and Muslim communities before publishing an article about their “community” as if it were a monolith? Would it hurt so much to seek out the voices that are not orthodox or conservative in their approach? Is every Asian defined by his/her religion alone? It may surprise you, but there is diversity among Stoke’s Muslim Asians. That diversity needs to be discovered and communicated to wider Stoke-on-Trent in order to empower those who feel isolated, to allow them to organise and challenge the rise of fundamentalist inspired values within their communities. What’s happening in Stoke at the moment is not multiculturalism. It’s moral relativism. It’s the idea that there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, that we ought to tolerate the behaviour of others – even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards. We should not “tolerate”. We must challenge those practices which encroach upon the rights of an individual, which harm an individual (usually the most vulnerable individuals within a given “group”). Lebanese-born French writer Amin Maalouf said it best when he wrote “Traditions deserve respect only insofar as they are respectable.”

All of Stoke’s Asian “Muslim” men are not conservative minded, mosque going heterosexuals. It’s a statistical impossibility. And all of Stoke’s Asian “Muslim” women are not headscarf donning housewives that enjoy their status in their communities, even if on the face of it, they say they do.  There are exceptions. There are individuals who are being silenced by louder voices within their community, that are fighting not to be pulled out of education to be married off to their cousin, that are gay or lesbian but cannot express it and that are being subjected to psychological and physical violence for trying to challenge the status quo. The Sentinel, as a public educator, has a responsibility to find these individuals and report on their stories. Their stories matter.

This doesn’t mean launching a right wing inspired attack on Stoke’s Asian Muslims by claiming that these problems only exist within their communities and that therefore they are exotic monsters. It does mean reporting with honesty and facts. It means showing that although these problems exist everywhere, that the level to which patriarchal values, homophobia and misogyny are being upheld and concealed within Stoke’s Asian and Muslim communities is destroying lives and holding back the potential of individuals and future generations.

Last time I checked, I’m pretty sure that newspapers had to abide by a code of practice. When will The Sentinel take responsibility for reporting stories comprehensively? When will The Sentinel engage with people who deviate from the stereotype, but are being silenced – often violently – by the majority?

The Three Mosqueteers

SOURCE: Cartoonstock


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