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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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.