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I see the lower depths wherever I go

12 March 2005

12:00 AM

12 March 2005

12:00 AM

Having spent so long, if not in the lower depths exactly, at least among their inhabitants, it is not surprising, perhaps, that I see the lower depths wherever I go. My experience haunts me, and I am on the lookout for them. For example, not long ago I was in a bookshop in a chic part of Paris when I picked up a book by a young woman who called herself simply Leila. The title of the book was Mariée de force (Forced Marriage), and the cover showed the eyes of a young woman peering out of a slit in a black veil.

The book recounts the life of a young woman, born in France of Moroccan parents. And everything she recounted reminded me of my young female patients of Pakistani origin: everything, in fact, was exactly the same. She was allowed no freedom at all; if she failed to obey her male relatives with the alacrity of a slave or, worse still, showed the slightest sign of independence, she was accused of prostitution and then beaten into obedience. Her brothers defended her ‘honour’ — that is to say, their own right to lord it over a female slave called a wife, while indulging themselves elsewhere to their hearts’ content — by spying on her constantly and denouncing her to her parents. And her father perpetuated the whole horrible social system by forcing her to marry a Moroccan boy who wanted to marry her so that he could live in France. ‘It was a rape pure and simple,’ she said, ‘to which he wanted me to submit.’

The book caused me to tremble with rage, so many times had I heard the story from my own patients. I had to move on to another book in the shop, or everyone would think I was a lunatic escaped from the asylum. I picked up a book by the Hungarian novelist S


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