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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"?