Mixed race marriage Bban

Unbelievable -- and still happening today

I was going to blog today about Geert Wilders, but then my eye was caught by this astonishing story: "Anger at US mixed marriage 'ban". Keith Bardwell, a white Justice of the Peace in the US state of Louisiana, refuses to issue marriage licences for mixed race couples on the grounds that any children they may have may not be accepted by their parents' communities. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it," says Bardwell, who nevertheless insists that he has "piles of black friends". "They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom," he says. Fancy -- even letting "them" go to the loo in his own house.

Incredibly, no one ever seems to have called Bardwell to account for operating this policy, which, besides being repulsive, is of course illegal -- and he's been a JP for 34 years. It was only after a couple consulted a lawyer on being refused a licence by him that his case was raised, and is now being taken up by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Stories like this crop up from time to time and are often dismissed as being so awful and extreme that they don't have to be taken very seriously: people with such views are isolated crazies, tends to be the line. When Italy's Northern League proposed putting limits on the number of mixed marriages in January, one former colleague with impeccable left-wing credentials pretty much told me not to be silly when I raised the subject. ( I wrote about it at the time, here.) As the League is, and was then, an important partner in Silvio Berlusconi's government, I was astonished. Italy is not so far away, and the rising profile of the BNP leads one to suspect that there are probably quite a few people in the UK who would have some sympathy both for the League and for Bardwell -- who naturally insists that he's not a racist, he just doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way".

It is possible that Bardwell means well -- we probably all know otherwise kind and gentle souls of a certain age who don't see their "it isn't fair on the children" line as bigoted -- but even if we extend him that latitude, such an attitude only perpetuates the prejudice. Bardwell is also of the opinion that mixed-race marriages don't last long. I'm sure that all of us whose skin colour is of a different hue to our wife's or husband's would beg to differ . . . and happily prove him wrong as the anniverary milestones pass by.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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