A MARRIAGE AGAINST THE MODE
Now that the honeymoon is over and Mr and Mrs Imran Khan have presumably settled down to what, for them, will pass as normal life, it is worth asking what all the brouhaha in the press was about. Why did the marriage of a personable young student at Bristol University to a former cricketer twice her age merit so many column inches? The answer surely lies in the extent to which the lovely Jemima, in getting what presumably she wanted, outraged the conventional prejudices of those who thought they knew what she ought to want.
In the first place, and above all things, she married a Muslim; and Islam has a treasured place in modern liberal demonology. From the impassioned denunciations of Salman-the-Not-Yet-Martyred to the naked jingoism of the Gulf War, Muslims have been treated to a depth of derision which would be thought intolerable if applied to any other group or culture. The Maoris of New Zealand, the Navaho of New Mexico, or the Dyaks of Sarawak, it is thought, exhibit patterns of life and behaviour which merit our respect. Anita Roddick, we are assured in the Amex advertisements, travels frequently among them and returns bearing balms and lotions which, after suitable packaging, are available from the Body Shop. They are noble savages and contact with them, somehow ennobles us.
Muslims, on the contrary, are merely savage and not noble. They are ‘fundamentalists’ (than which no word in the liberal vocabulary is more damning); they enslave their women (so continuing into an enlightened age the wicked practices of our own benighted forefathers); and (as a tasteless front page of Private Eye recently reminded us) they cut off the hands of people caught stealing sheep.
Secondly, by marrying the man of her choice, Mrs Khan is apparently accused of having sacrificed a number of the vaunted ‘freedoms’ of a society which measures its maturity by them: ‘No more alcohol, nightclubs and revealing dresses for Jemima!” screamed the headlines. Self-imposed abstinence, it seems, was more than the commentators could take. To tabloid writers who, for the most part, are incapable of taking any religion seriously and whose idea of personal freedom and fulfilment is a lifelong version of a Club 18-30s holiday, the idea that a young woman of more than average good looks and intelligence could willingly embrace an austere religion, and hope for happiness in doing so, was flatly incomprehensible. Darkly they hinted at coercion or concluded that such an aberration could not last long.
All this, any reasonable person will conclude, is shallow as it applies to Imran and Jemima, and deeply offensive as it applies to the growing Muslim communities in our own towns and cities who try, whilst living according to their own lights, to abide by our laws and tolerate our laxity.
But there is more.
Beyond the ignorant hatred of Islam and the impoverished notion of freedom, lurks an unspoken fear: fear that everything is not relative after all; and that, after all, there are certainties and inevitabilities in life to which we must bow.
For Mrs Imran Khan has done a terrible, an iconoclastic thing. In a modern world which abhors patriarchy and extols equality she has married a man twice her age who is a zealous convert to the religion of his fathers. Swept off her feet (as other women have been before her) by a combination of Pathan ancestry and sporting prowess, she has rejected the New Man for the Unreconstructed Patriarch.
She is, as a result, and whether she likes it or not ( I suspect she does not like it) a challenge to the prevailing consensus. It is a momentous thing if the New Man, so laboriously forged on the word processors of Highbury and Islington, should now be rejected by the likes of Jemima Goldsmith.