What happened to Naema Tahir?

Long before a part of my story appeared in the book Exodus from the lighthouse, I attended talks by Naema Tahir. I read her works, and listened carefully to her words, which back then soothed some pain in me because of the recognition. I was in my early twenties, and had rebellious blonde locks. I feared honor consequences every day after a tyrannizing childhood. Years later, I read Tahir’s educational work, called Breaking Eurocentric Frames on Arranged Marriage; Uncovering the Dynamics of a Marital Institution. That brought up the question: what happened to Naema Tahir?

Naema Tahir was a symbol of emancipation. She was seen as a strong woman who dared to criticize arranged marriages publicly because arranged marriages are dangerous. Those include being married off, forced marriages, and being left behind in another country. Those are among the most well-known harmful traditional practices that we have in the world. In other words, a breach of human rights. Whether that is Hindu or Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and so on. Arranged marriages have existed since the beginning of mankind, and are still prevalent on every continent of the world.

Tahir was very open about her experiences. As a young woman who had escaped being left behind in New York, and a forced marriage, I drew strength from it. I saw her as a beautiful woman and a sister who ‘understood it all so well’, put words to it, and took up the fight for the greater good.

Swipe culture has no more elegance and humanity than arranged marriages

I do not want to get bogged down in political discussions. I want to show that arranged marriages should disappear because they no longer serve a purpose, more about that later. In addition, based on Tahir’s work, a lot of politics was indeed practiced already. Simply put: x versus the West, and what should we do with it for our collective security? My view has always been humanism. That will never change. In my view, politics should only support humanity, and not abuse it. But we all know the reality of it.

Moreover, we as in ’the West’ should take a look at ourselves, with our swipe culture on the dating apps. Sometimes, that culture does not have more elegance and humanity than the arranged marriages. No, we are not nicely balanced on the scale between ultra-community and ultra-individualism. In the twister of that next-next-next culture, even the most graceful among us get blown down a path that is not right for us. In other words, a – albeit mild form of – coercion.

As if the swipe culture is completely synonymous with ‘self-determination, and humanely choosing a true love’. Well, it is a twister of the utmost transience and superficiality, which makes us no longer see people in their full value, and makes us not always honest in terms of intentions, attitude, and behavior – for example, being transparent. That is not for me. Waste of life energy.

I want to get bogged down in humane discussions. Because between the time of my blonde locks, and the arrival of the book Breaking Eurocentric Frames on Arranged Marriage; Uncovering the Dynamics of a Marital Institution, something has changed.

Human error in history

I’ve gone through this big work digitally, thanks to the publisher and to Naema Tahir herself. The general conclusion is that arranged marriages are actually very social, and that we therefore criticize this system wrongly. I’d like to add in my wording: that arranged marriages are part of care, cohesion, and honorable survival of the living matrix. Zooming in on how this work is scientifically put together is of no further importance here. It is about the bigger, humane picture.

I literally had abdominal pain because of the general conclusion of the book. Maybe that says something about me. Or perhaps such a conclusion, supported by the scientific frameworks given to it, is a serious human error in history. I think the latter. I expressed my concern to Professor Janine Janssen. And I wanted to talk to Naema Tahir about it.

Tahir and I had a personal conversation, and spoke at length. Then, for one and a half year straight, I tried to get her to record a podcast with me, still without expressing the details of my concerns. Finally, she jokingly wrote to me: “You have been so patient. As far as I’m concerned, you are one of the most patient women in the Netherlands!” But for all sorts of reasons – possibly some of which I am not aware – we didn’t get it off the ground. I was bummed by it because this topic is crucial in this day and age – worldwide.

After their breaking free, many zigzag during their life between different phases

Naema Tahir told me that she regrets her personal statements at the time, and that she was being too harsh. Today, she no longer wants to share personal experiences. In the context of this book, she only wants to have a scientific discussion.

I thought: come on. This work is nothing but personal, namely healing, and mending the rifts in family and group contexts. A blind person can see that this work is possibly a – traumatic – atonement and rectification. A protection even of her heritage. A reason to make family members proud of her. Besides, as if she would ever want to give up her current partner from outside of her group for an arranged marriage? I don’t think so.

This is characteristic of the lives of people who have escaped from a closed-up environment. After their breaking free, many zigzag in their life between different phases. Many try to integrate all these phases with each other at a later age. In the process, some go all the way back to the early pre-breaking-free mode. In other words, back to their home base.

Suppose that happened in Tahir’s case, then I have no judgment about it. We are all human, and we all make our own choices. Moreover, it has long been clear: I love the woman. I therefore wanted to discuss this, and reflect it back in the podcast.

But drawing such a conclusion in the name of science is something that concerns us all. It becomes a public matter. I am convinced that it stands in the way of humanity in the short and long term. That literally kept me awake at night. Should I let go? Do something with it, but more abstract, without referring to her work? Is that powerful and relevant enough?

Balance and timing are essential for rapid and sustainable change

As I tossed and turned, I kept weighing arguments in circles, until I happened to speak to Maryam Hassouni, who urged me to share my truth. That this is indeed my task, she argued. Spiritually aware as we both are, Hassouni added that it would stick in my body if I would not do it. The insomnia was already there. After our long conversation, Hassouni repeated in a message: “And write that opinion piece!” I knew that she was right.

My hesitation was mainly in the fact that I do not want to be positioned as opposite of Naema Tahir, for sensation, debates, and media scores. I almost had this happen once before with Lale Gül. Besides, as an outsider of a group, it is sometimes wiser not to interfere in the process of emancipation and enlightenment. One of the reasons is that imposing can actually slow down the process unnecessarily. Balance and timing, or knowing when to act and when not to act, are essential for rapid and sustainable change. To a large extent, change has to come from within a group.

In the case of my own group, I have the birthright to do so, and I know every nuance so well that there is no one who can do it better, with such grace and sharpness for the greater good of my group – whether people like it or not.

Terms create confusion and are ineffective

The fact that we should view arranged marriages as highly social is a human error in history because physical and mental forms of coercion occur in the vast majority of the cases. There is nothing complex about it in terms of analysis. We could say that it is just a matter of terms, thus that we have to make a distinction between arranged marriages on the one hand, and forced marriages on the other, as Tahir does. However, practice shows that terms cause confusion, and are ineffective.

Especially, that many young people think that they want to be married off, and that they want to behave well as goodie-goodie people within their home base, or within the group. Yet, without realizing what being married off really entails in terms of risks. Likewise, without realizing how much they are the community product of where they come from, and are unable to really fully know who they are at that stage in their lives. How are they supposed to weigh arguments, and think for themselves in terms of arranged marriages? We could say that they are incapable, lacking comparison, frameworks, and experience. They are not fully grown into themselves, so they cannot make such choices.

After a while, we see many of them getting caught up by life, and facing even bigger issues than if they had never been married off – even femicide. We can all imagine what sorts of issues we are talking about, that are at odds with human rights. Issues that Tahir is also aware of in a personal context. Issues that go beyond all basic aspects of self-determination. I repeat: issues that could have been prevented… In short, the potential benefits of arranged marriages do not outweigh the drawbacks.

Cornerstone of wars

This goes one step further. Arranged marriages have always been the cornerstone of fundamentalism. The flame among the fires. The cornerstone of patriarchal power structures. Of honor. The cornerstone of collective coercion in the shape of terrorist cultivation, political and national battles, social loss of talent development among women, increasing governmental allowance recipients, and decreasing financial allocation for social issues such as progress, innovation, sustainability, and customized care. Again, the cornerstone of (centuries long) wars. Even the cornerstone of the issue on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Suppose there are mature adults who sincerely ask for an arranged marriage based on their foundation, then we should no longer class those cases under arranged marriages for the greater goal of safeguarding humanity. We don’t do that with ‘standard’ matchmaking in the civilian world, either. In essence, I suspect that Naema Tahir and I can somewhat agree on this idea. If not for the fact that Tahir is trying to cultivate a different connotation to the term ‘arranged marriages’, and I say that we should not go for that rectification.

Because we can no longer negate the connotation of that term. Because the issue is so significant that we need to be precise in our wording rather than confusing matters unnecessarily. Because the violation of human rights is so great that we cannot trivialize, and look away under the pretense of a different culture and mentality. I cannot repeat it often enough: it is not cultures that act, but people do. In the end, human errors in history do not remain a static hearth with a burning flame, but turn into massive fires, and destructive disasters.

We women are too good to be abused for such a purpose. As a cornerstone. As a pawn of destruction. After all, we are not the water but the foam, which we will use in the coming centuries to extinguish fires instead of flood. We need all connections to each other for that, to cover a large field with our foam, and succeed in protecting our humanity. Without any slaughter. Nature will challenge our existence enough as it is. And with that, we absolutely cannot use a human error in history.