The "Muhammad"/"Mohammed" row

Sir Max Hastings talks a lot of nonsense

I think the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was wrong to exclude "Muhammad" from the list of the most popular boys' names in Britain, simply because of the variations in spelling ("Muhammad", "Mohammed", "Muhammed", "Mohamed", and so on). If you add up all the variants, "Muhammad" enters the list near the top, at either number 2 or number 3.

But why the hysteria? As Rumbold points out, over at Pickled Politics:

This is another example of the non-story, in which something which shouldn't make the news does because Muslims are involved. For those who doubt this, do you think there would be columnists in national newspapers writing about what the failure to amalgamate Ian/Iain in a list represents?

The reason for the fuss is the obsession with Muslim demographics, or what the Israelis (in their context keeping track of their Palestinian population) call the "demographic time bomb". Right-wingers wring their hands at the (ludicrous) prospect of Muslim-majority populations across the once-mighty nations of a once-Christian Europe.

Sir Max Hastings, the former Telegraph editor, indulges this nonsense in a column for (yep, you guessed it!) today's Daily Mail:

The ONS's hit parade of children's names, as released for publication, seemed designed to mask a simple truth which dismays millions of people, and which politicians and bureaucracies go to great lengths to bury: the Muslim population of Britain is growing extraordinarily fast.

In 2007, 28 per cent of children born in England and Wales, rising to 54 per cent in London, had at least one foreign-born parent. In 2008, 14.4 per cent of primary school children claimed some other tongue than English as their first language.

The Muslim population is now close to two million, over 3 per cent, and rising fast because Muslim families have more children than most of the rest of us, many of them named Mohammed or Muhammed.

Muslim population has doubled in 30 years, and will double again on present projections by 2015. By 2060, Britain is expected to be the most populous nation in the EU, with 77 million people -- this, though today Germany's population is 20 million larger than ours.

Only 3 per cent? Shame. You mean we haven't yet converted or killed the other 97 per cent? Damn. May I ask a question here? If you substituted the word "Jewish" for "Muslim" in these rather fevered paragraphs, how do you think it would read? Do you think it might read like the Daily Mail of the 1930s?

Hastings continues:

A bleak body of pundits, many of them American neoconservatives rather than spokesmen of the British National Party, believe that Europe, and Britain in particular, is threatened by a Muslim tide which will not merely transform its traditional culture but, frankly, bury it.

In a series of recent books, they argue that Islam is colonising this continent in a fashion that will render it unrecognisable a generation or two hence.

Even if this is overstated, the statistics paint a grim picture for those of us who do not wish to live in a small island crowded with 77 million people, even if most of the newcomers were white Australian Christians.

First, there is something rather touching, if naive, about Hastings's suggestion, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, that American neoconservatives have any more credibility on Muslim issues than spokesmen of the BNP. Second, the books he refers to do not simply "overstate" the case, but have been thoroughly discredited and dismantled. Third, when did "white Australian Christians" become the ideal "newcomers" to the UK?

The piece continues with Hastings committing one egregious error after another. He confuses people from ethnic minorities who have been born and brought up in Britain with foreign-born migrants to this country. He treats Muslim as a distinct ethnic group, contrasting them with "whites" whom, he tells us, they "are soon expected to outnumber" in Birmingham and Leicester. He claims that young British Muslims "tell pollsters that they feel much less integrated into British society than many of their parents profess", without offering a shred of evidence. In contrast, in a recent Gallup poll I came across, 74 per cent of Muslims in London professed loyalty to Britain, compared with 45 per cent of their non-Muslim counterparts.

Sir Max concludes his ridiculous and ill-informed piece in a particularly outrageous manner:

Unless we can reclaim these huge areas, and their inhabitants, we shall become a divided society, no longer recognisably British, of which a host of young Mohammeds and Muhammeds will be the symbols.

In the week in which the BBC has invited the BNP leader Nick Griffin on to its flagship current-affairs programme, why on earth should men named Muhammed (or even Mohammed) be accused automatically of being the "symbols" of a "divided society"?

 

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.