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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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.