At Cardiff Crown Court yesterday, Sara Ege was sentenced to "life" in prison (which is more likely to mean 17 years). Inevitably, comment pages and blogs were invaded by bigots ranting about the inherent evil of Islam and calling for restrictions on Muslim immigration. Some atheists, meanwhile, have used the case to illustrate the dangers of all religion.
While plenty of harm has been done to children in the name of religion, I don't think Islam is the true culprit in this case. Here's a quote from the BBC story. I believe the key to Yaseen's murder can be found in the bolded paragraph:
She and her husband had enrolled Yaseen in advanced classes at their local mosque as they wanted him to become Hafiz - an Islamic term for someone who memorises the Koran.
As a child Sara Ege had taken part in competitions showing her knowledge of Islam and had recited from the Koran. The court heard that she had become increasingly frustrated with her son's inability to learn the passages.This was about a frustrated woman wanting to recapture childhood glory by living vicariously through her son. If the family hadn't been religious, she would probably have pushed Yaseen to become a maths prodigy (she has a mathematics degree, but had apparently been a housewife since moving to Britain for her arranged marriage).
You could argue that religion helps explain why no one tried harder to stop Mrs Ege's abuse of her son. Becoming Hafiz is considered highly desirable in Islam. Mrs Ege's eagerness for her son to do it may have been regarded as praiseworthy, even if her methods were excessive. Perhaps if she'd been obsessed with Yaseen learning to do quadratic equations, her behaviour would have struck more people as odd.
Perhaps. But even then, for many people it would have represented the extreme end of an otherwise acceptable spectrum. From the miniature football kits sold to expectant fathers, to the books praising "tiger mothers" who micromanage their children's days, society finds it unremarkable that parents should not just encourage their children to do their best in whatever they pursue, but also try to dictate what those pursuits should be. It is "normal," in short, to try to form your children in your own image. As long as that remains the case, some lunatics like Mrs Ege -- and other parents who are less murderous, but who still damage the children they are determined to form into prodigies -- will slip through the cracks.
Recently, after a court ruled that a mother could not prevent her son from having life-saving cancer treatment, one Internet commenter complained that "your children do not belong to you any more." Perhaps it's time to spread the word that they never did.