Why Jemima Khan can't win

Her marriage to Imran Khan was the wedding of the year, but she has been reviled ever since. Now she is returning to Pakistan to face smuggling charges, but will she ever be seen as anything but a wicked Jewess?
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She is rich, very rich, gorgeous, blonde, stylish, hugely popular among party-going air-heads and just about ripe. He is a dark and handsome (now ex) playboy from the Eastern world, brilliant cricketer, and an object of distant desire for millions of women. They meet at a dinner party and she keels over with love and desire. They marry and try to live together happily ever after. But, alas, this proves to be impossibly difficult because, unlike a Mills and Boon tale, their love is never left alone. It is seen as an affront to those who prefer to promote vile loathing between nations, cultures and religions. Feminists despise women such as Jemima while other women envy her lot. She has also become a political target in Pakistan since Imran Khan set up the Tehrik-i-Insaaf (The Movement for Justice) party which campaigns to end corruption in politics.

Most people believe this is why she was accused last year of smuggling 397 "priceless antique" tiles (according to a representative of the government's archaeological department) out of the country, a charge she totally refutes, claiming that they are cheap Iranian tiles she bought in a market in Islamabad. Frantically worried that she would be imprisoned by the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who hated her husband, she fled to Britain where she has been living for nearly a year. This week she made the decision to return to Pakistan, which is now controlled by the army, hoping that the charges against her will be dropped. Sharif, meanwhile, has just been charged with corruption, kidnapping and treason; yet another miserable episode in the history of a country that has never managed to live up to its ideals.

Still only 25 and already a mother of two, Jemima Khan, like Diana, Princess of Wales, seems destined for a life of drama. Her father, the millionaire financier Jimmy Goldsmith, was arrogant, faithless and devoutly right wing. She was his favourite child and adored him. This, in spite of knowing that he had a long-term mistress with whom he had two children. That fragile quality you sense in Jemima underpinned by resolution must come from this experience. Almost everyone who knows her says that she has a remarkable capacity to see things through.

Until she met Imran she was living the empty life of a London socialite. She fell in love with him as she listened to him sounding off - as he frequently does these days - about the meaning of life, God and the virtuous, anti-materialistic life. He had gone through a personal crisis when his mother died of cancer, leaving him bereft, angry and determined to shed the lifestyle he had cultivated for so many years. No more night clubs or casual affairs for him, he declared.

In 1995 they married, starting up a cyclone of disapproval which has yet to settle down. For many white Britons she was betraying her background by becoming a Muslim. For many Pakistanis she has stolen their cherished son and will always be a wicked Jewess.

There was appalling media hysteria in this country - all built around age-old fantasies about golden girls being enslaved by swarthy and cruel Muslims. One of her friends, the journalist Annabel Heseltine, who had once herself shared a moment or two with the delicious Imran, wrote a mindless article warning Jemima about the lot of a poor Muslim wifey. This was Islamaphobia in full display. And a mirror image was seen in Pakistan, where the press was convinced that this was yet another Western plot to destroy its civilisation. The lovers carried on regardless and all was sealed with a fab wedding attended by the world's glitterati and power brokers such as Henry Kissinger.

Far from being destroyed, Jemima seemed to mature remarkably in the first years of her marriage. She foxed us all by integrating into Pakistani life with genuine warmth and respect. To many Muslims she became that rare example of someone who could see value in who we were. Imran Khan also acquired gravitas. Although his political ambitions have proved to be more difficult to realise than he imagined (and Jemima is seen as a liability here), his other project - the setting up of a cancer hospital to provide the kind of care his own mother never had - has won him great respect.

Jemima in the meantime has had two sons, Sulaiman and Kasim, and has learnt not only to tolerate her extended family in Lahore but to truly cherish the values she has found within the family. She has taught herself to speak Urdu, she wears shalwar khameez with an ease that I have rarely seen in a white woman. She wants her children to speak Urdu and to be proud of their Pakistani heritage. She has just started a business selling hand-embroidered dresses; each garment takes six months to complete and the business employs 700 women. Six dresses were shown at this autumn's London Fashion Week and Jemima was invited to an opening party given by the Blairs.

But the more this woman seems to learn and achieve, the more reviled she appears to be. Who would be Jemima Khan? There are still women in this country who hate her because she married their dream man. By refusing to endorse the appalling prejudices that are felt and expressed about Muslims in this country, and by daring to suggest that there is something this society might learn about family love and support from Pakistan, she continues to be dismissed as a mad Muslim herself. At a party I went to recently a gaggle of feminist journalists described Jemima as a "stupid little cow who chose subjugation".

Educated Pakistanis - men and women - will tell you that Imran could be the best political leader in the world, but he has no chance in Pakistan because he married a Jewess. Two weeks ago an abusive message was left on her answerphone accusing her of exploiting Pakistani women and paying them slave wages.

The media is forever sniffing the air around her to detect signs of disintegration in her marriage.

And there have clearly been difficulties. Imran Khan has been seen recently with his ex-lover Sita White, who claimed that he is the father of her six-year-old daughter. Funny how all those high-flying Islamic values are laid aside by men when it suits them. And there are people who have seen him behaving with cruel indifference towards her in the last two years. Rumours abound, too, that he is becoming more troubled about the fact that when she is in London she does not behave like a proper Muslim. Her behaviour, he claims, affects his political ambitions, which continue undaunted.

You wonder if he ever stops to think how this young mother, who has worked so hard to enter his world, who has gone against her class and her race and the expectations of those close to her, feels today when all she seems to get is vilification from all sides. No middle-class Pakistani woman would put up with any of this. Perhaps that is why he chose a young Englishwoman who would always feel slightly out of place in his country.

It is not in my nature to feel much sympathy for the privileged. But in the case of Jemima Khan I detect a woman of such exceptional values and qualities that it does seem right to defend her. As my mother (who is saying special prayers for her at the moment) puts it: "This is a special woman. This is why they will not let her be. They will destroy her. Just like Diana."

I fervently hope not, though only time will tell.

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