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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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