Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ain't Misbah's Haven

When twelve year old British school girl Misbah Rana (or Molly Campbell as is she is also known) left her mother’s home on the island of Lewis last year to live with her father in Pakistan, there was much conjecture about her rights and welfare in this country. What concerned most British commentators, quite understandably, was squaring what was right for Misbah with what she actually wanted. There was fierce debate about whether or not a twelve year old girl was any judge of what may best serve her long-term interests.

Uncomfortable issues were raised about cultural prejudices in relation to lifestyle. Misbah’s mother Louise Campbell had converted to Islam when she married Sajad Rana but had reverted to a secular lifestyle with a new partner. Days after Misbah’s relocation to Lahore in September, The Times reported that papers had been filed in a Pakistani court claiming that Louise Campbell was ‘living in sin with a total stranger.’ Since Louise Campbell’s new partner was unlikely to have been a total stranger to her, we can safely assume that this was a value judgement rather than a statement of fact.

The court papers went on to claim, ‘if the girl was permitted to live in the household which is presided over by a stranger, it will be impossible to bring her up as a proper Muslim female. Indeed, the environment is likely to destroy and erode the moral fibre of her life.’ This is hardly the language of reasoned consideration. It must have been difficult for Misbah, split from the rest of her siblings and her father and expected to adjust to a new and very isolated environment, complete turnaround in lifestyle and a new man in her mother’s life. It may well be that the move to Lahore was always going to be in her best interests and that the method of its achievement was just unfortunate. Even Louise Campbell last week dropped her action to have Misbah returned to Stornoway on the condition that reasonable visitation arrangements could be agreed.

Last September, Louise Campbell expressed concerns that Misbah may have been lured to Pakistan to be given away in an arranged marriage. She was criticised for this suggestion as was anyone who supported it. The possibility wasn’t indicated in Misbah’s case since none of her siblings had been married off but neither was it out of the question as she is of marriageable age in a country where the practice is not unprecedented. As a mother, Louise Campbell would have been naïve not to consider it a risk at least. Sajad Rana cursorily dismissed the suggestion but what if Misbah herself has different ideas?

Today The Guardian reports that Misbah has been staying in Islamabad with ‘a radical Islamist who was once close to Osama Bin Laden.’

‘For the past month, the 12-year-old has lived intermittently with Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence officer who boasts of having met the al-Qaida leader "over 100 times". This week Mr Khawaja, 56, organised a press conference for Misbah at a hardline madrasa in Islamabad. She was later interviewed wearing a burka.’

It would appear she really has been ‘living with a total stranger’ as Sajad Rana arrived and spirited her away in the middle of the night, claiming he knew nothing of Khawaja’s history and associations with al-Qaida. When it first became known that Misbah had moved out of the family home Mr Rana explained to the press,

'She is a grown person, she is an adult...she wants to study Islam and she has joined this group for her education.'

Khawaja himself is quite confident in his authority to speak on behalf of Misbah and her future claiming,

‘The whole world is playing games against this girl. Her whole life in Scotland was against her wishes. She does not want to go back to that dirty society.’

The voice of reason strikes again. An embarrassed Mr Rana was forced to do a little backtracking on the subject of his renegade daughter’s activities explaining,

‘I don't know why this guy is coming out with all this rubbish. The minute I found out they were connected to the Taliban I went to get her.’

Misbah herself has proven very good at playing both ends off against the middle and getting exactly what she wants. In a typical I-don’t-know-what-all-the-fuss-is-about statement, she quipped,

‘I love my dad and I want to live with him. I was just staying at my friend's house and my dad came to get me.’

My question would be this – in what context do we accept that a twelve year old girl has an equitable live-in friendship with a 56 year old man, radical Islamist or not? But who is really playing games here? I wonder if it is not Mishah herself who is running this show, or thinks she is. She is at an age where she is defining herself and her own moral universe. It is a difficult enough phase when you are not doing it under the spotlight of the world’s gaze and in the context of a cultural car crash. It is time to stop fretting over whether or not Misbah is getting what makes her ‘happy’ and ensure that she is properly protected against manipulation or worse, physical abuse. The most chilling aspect of the report is this,

‘Mr Khawaja said Misbah's father no longer had control of her because she had reached marrying age.’

Is Misbah Rana living in a fantasy world where the ultimate prize might be marriage to a notorious radical? Does this little girl really think she’s that grown up?

Photo from


nmj said...

Custody cases are seldom black and white and this is all the more complex with the cultural divides, but I was kind of on Misbah/Molly's side until now - when I read about the madrassa in today's Herald, I felt utterly chilled.

That's so pants said...

I know. I have visions of Patty Hearst for some reason.

kris said...

What a surprise! Little kids think they know, but often don't know what's best...

What kills me is the way the press, liberal commentators and islamists have joined together and rounded on the Mom.

Now that Mom's been ground down and on the brink of a nervous, these twerps say, "oh well, the parties can work out a mutually agreeable visitation".

Do they really think so? Do me a fucking favour! Molly/Misbah's off; and she'll be leaving a trail of shit and heartache where ever she goes. Spoiled brat- simple as that.

One day she will grow up and I suspect, will think her lucky stars for her British passport.

Ms Baroque said...

Well, it's a depressing little story from start to finish. Kris, she may be spoiled but like most kids she probably really wants someone to be "right." We all need to think the world makes sense. Like all spoiled kids, Misbah has been allowed to destroy the order of the world - though on a larger scale than, say, the kid who gets that Wii after not doing his homework, or whatever.

With both parents cvonveniently forgetting that they had at one time agreed to raise their children together - with, I suspect, Mr Rana refusing to believe that he had to listen to anything his ex-wife might have to say, or indeed to show her culture any respect whatsoever - and with the family's internal issue subsumed by international religio-political hoo-ha from the start - it was only a matter of time before this kid went over to the Islamists. She's being asked, nay, told, to define herself as Muslim first and everything else second (this by her mother as well as her dad - changing her name and not letting her practice her religion is another way of defining her by it, after all), and she's being fed a line (seemingly by every grownup she encounters) about how she was "done wrong" by the dirty Western culture of her mum. So, essentially, she can take the "truth" that's being made available to her in her quest for the world to make sense, or she can just be lost in a wilderness of confusion like the rest of us.

You have to wonder wtf is going on inb Mr Rana's head, too! After all, if she is an adult and of marriagable age and doesn't have to ask anybody for permission etc, why is he engaged in a custody battle? Or, to put it another way - is the age of consent international? Are you legally a child under the age of 16 in every country?

That's so pants said...

Hi Kris. I agree that Louise Campbell has been a soft target for both sides. Her only crime has been to conduct a bog standard British lifestyle. By her actions, her daughter has deprived her of her right to live freely as she chooses and be judged by the same code of civil conduct as the rest of us. I think that the adult world has comprehensively failed to get across to Misbah the message that actions have consequences. Misbah does what she likes and gets applauded for it. We cannot blame her for the systematic dismantling of boundaries which have allowed her to swan about living where she pleases and giving press conferences while other children her age in this country are being given detention for truancy for popping out for a bag of chips at lunchtime without authorisation.

That's so pants said...

Hi Ms B - Seems we were both beavering away on the same thought at the same time in our various corners of unseasonally sunny Hackney! I totally agree that it appears Misbah's behaviour is the result of an ideological tug-of-war. Now she's finally getting some attention for all the wrong reasons.

kris said...

Actually, PC Bitseach and I were just thinking...

Don't most 12 year old girls think their mother's are bitches?

We see Misbah coming back to the UK in about 10/15 years- whereupon she wil roll out her compo claim with Mom and the British government as co-respondents for LETTING her go to pakistan before she reached the age of (Gillick) responsibility.

And for our sins? We shall have the priviliege of homing her and her then 70 year old "partner's" progeny (he will have since given her a triple talaq for moaning about his taking on a 4th wife) on a Glasgow estate....

That's so pants said...

Hi Kris and, indeed PC Bitseach. Yes - I do believe Misbah is going through one of those growing pain phases and rejecting her mother and all she stands for. Ms Baroque hit the mark when she pointed out that this experience is being grotesquely magnified by the cultural circumstances and mass attention. I don't think it's particularly illuminating to speculate on what might happen to her in the future through a lens of cultural stereotyping - altough I do think that what has happened this week is horrifying and certainly indicates that the type of scenario you are imagining is a possibility. For me it just doesn't follow that her present situation is the result of an inevitability. Rather, I think, it's the result of a string of events, any number of which should have sounded warning bells and led to a responsible adult stepping in. Instead, inaction has caused an escalation of the situation. All the more reason for authorities to consider it a wake up call and remember that Misbah has been allowed to place herself in what we used to call good old fashioned 'moral danger' while everyone was busy respecting her freedom. She would be well within her rights to blame adults for not protecting her as we all have a moral responsibility to safeguard children. Better it stops here before her childhood is ruined for ever.

kris said...

Hi Ms Pants,

It may not be illuminating- but seeing so many human rights compo claims- it seems almost inevitable.

I whole-heartedly agree with everything you say, as does PC B.

And like you, we despair that the child's well-being has been lost in the argument over the supposed culture-clash.

That's so pants said...

Yes I know it can be extremely dispiriting and frustrating when you're working at the sharp end - been there too. Let's hope it all ends well.