It is apparent that Ms Khan is more Briton than Muslim, and Allah be praised for that.
Gina Khan is a very brave woman. Born in Birmingham 38 years ago to Pakistani parents, she has run away from an arranged marriage, dressed herself in jeans and dared to speak out against the increasing radicalisation of her community.
“There are mosques springing up on every street corner,” she says, pointing them out to me as we drive to her tiny house in Birmingham, near the district where nine men were arrested last week on suspicion of plotting to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Two suspects have since been released without charge.
Over the past 15 years, she says, there has been an influx of jihadist thinking into her part of Birmingham. Bookshops sell radical literature and the mosques preach separatism and hatred. The Government and the white Establishment have allowed it to happen. And she is outraged about it. “It’s all happening on your doorstep,” she says, “and Britain is still blind to the real threat that is embedded here now.
“I truly believe that all these mosques here are importing jihad. The radical teaching is filtering through, and these mosques are not regulated. They are supporting everything that is wrong about Islam. We within the community knew this. People are lying. They are in denial. They knew they were bringing in radicals.
“But there are still more English and British people, no matter what, and if they got together and wanted to stamp out this radicalism, they could. I am wasting my time talking to my own people; that is why I am sitting here talking to you, to open your eyes.”
Khan is particularly worried about how mosques are brainwashing children and young people: “To me, it is starting to look like a cult.” And her local community certainly seems to be in denial. “After the raid I went to the corner shop here, and they were all saying it was a conspiracy. I turned round and said, “˜No, it is not. Let us be honest”.
“They say we”re being victimised. We”re not. The truth is coming out at last, but it’s 20 years too late.”
Is it not astonishing that we hear this not from a member of the British government or of its security services but from a member of the Muslim community? Is there anyone not asleep at the switch over there?
Three issues in particular enrage her: forced or arranged marriages for teenage girls, polygamy and the veil. Khan herself was pressurised into marriage at the age of 16 by her father, against her mother’s wishes. “I was manipulated by my dad’s side of the family into a teen marriage “” you know, you are a passport for someone from Pakistan. My mum wanted me to study and make something of my life because she knew what this country had to offer.”
Khan married and became pregnant, but after her baby died she says that she suffered terrible postnatal depression and left the marriage. Her family disowned her, as did the Muslim community. “Where is the support in the community for women?” she asks. “Where is it? It is not here. The best thing you can do is go to the social services.” She is full of praise for the instruments of the British state: social services, the police, job centres. If she were prime minister, she says, the first thing she would do is ban teen marriages. “They are still being pulled out of the local girls school here and taken back home, aged 16 or 17, not allowed to get an education. These girls are so young, they can be manipulated by their family”s culture and religion. They don’t have a chance. To wait until they are 25 or so would make more sense.”
Maybe the Conservatives should give David Cameron the heave-ho and make Ms Khan leader of the opposition.
The mosques, she says, collude in these marriages, as they do in the informal polygamy that she claims is rife in Muslim communities. “It is still very, very common here, polygamy. This is Pakistan I have just brought you back into,” she says, gesturing at the streets of terraced and semidetached houses.
So, although polygamy is illegal in Britain, it is still, says, Khan, being practised with a Muslim seal of approval. The “marriages”, after all, are being sanctioned in the mosques. “My mum would turn in her grave if she knew Sharia was here. This is England, how can this be happening, how in this country? People in Pakistan are fighting for it not to happen there.” Khan is also vociferous on the subject of the veil, which is not, she says, a religious requirement: “It’s a 7th-century garment that should not be in this country.” In places like Pakistan, where there is little protection by the police from sexual harassment, she can see the point of it, but not here.
Of course, it is a 7th century garment but one with full Islamic authority:
“Oh Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and wives and daughters of the believers, to extend their outer garments around themselves, so that they would be distinguished and not molested. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.” (Koran, 33:59)
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons … ” etc., etc. (Koran 24:31)
Don’t blame the 7th century, blame Islam.
Having banned teen marriages and the veil, cracked down on polygamy and ensured women’s representation in mosques, Khan’s next priority as prime minister would be to get rid of faith schools and teach Britishness more effectively. Although her children are taught well at an excellent Catholic school, she fears that Muslim schools exacerbate separatism. “Britishness should be compulsory in schools, taught by English teachers. And we should let kids know how valuable their British passports are around the world.”
“Compared with Third World countries, compared with every Muslim country, we Muslims are a lot safer here, I know that still. I would not want to leave and move to Pakistan or anywhere on my own as a woman with a grown daughter. I know that now, though it may have taken me a lifetime to realise it. I am so lucky to have been born here.
“We are women, we are treated equally here. If I am raped or sexually abused, the cruellest things that can happen to a woman and leave a residue on your life, this is a country that supports you. I do not have to hide. They are going to help me, give me counselling. What are they going to do in a Muslim country? Stone me. I need four witnesses. They are going to ostracise me, as if I am dirty.”
“Muslim women aren’t suppose to make waves. I didn’t even hear my own screams and tears for 34 years. I have now stepped back and decided to understand and challenge my religion.”
“Challenge my religion” – precisely.