Thursday, August 12, 2010

This World - Stolen Brides

This World: Stolen Brides (BBC2) was a harrowing account of the repopularisation of an ancient Chechen practice: kidnapping women off the streets in order to force them into marriage with men they have barely met.

Lucy Ash's investigations took her into the homes of recently kidnapped women, where mullahs and family patriarchs sat together to decide what their daughters and granddaughters' fates should be; into the presence of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who is allowed by Moscow to promulgate his version of Islam and Sharia law within the supposedly secular state in return for his work putting down insurgencies; and into the new Islamic Medical Centre where women are exorcised of the demons that are preventing them from settling down happily with their new husbands. Scatter inverted commas throughout that last sentence as you see fit. I, frankly, am too depressed.

The interviewed relatives were often distraught, occasionally aggrieved and ultimately resigned. The husbands were unrepentant – though not, to judge from their discomfort at the questions Ash put to them about the possible cruelty of their actions, wholly oblivious. A picture emerged of the fertile soil in which the tradition had begun to flourish once again. A history of violence and subjugation has left generations of Chechen men frustrated and radicalised, willing to bend religion's rules to allow them to seize this method of making themselves feel empowered again. Cultural traditions must be clung to if any sense of national identity is to survive Russia's stranglehold.

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