One of the weirdest manifestations of hostility to Muslims is concern about children's names. A couple of months ago it was reported that nearly all the most popular names of new born boys in Brussels were of Muslim origin.
The right wing journalist Max Hastings joined in with a column which complained that Mohammed was actually one of the most popular names of British babies, but this fact was disguised by the different spellings of the name being listed separately.
You might think that people would have better things to do than check different spellings of names and aggregate the totals. Obviously not. Maybe Max should check whether 'Max', 'Maxim' and 'Maximilian' are listed separately, or 'John' and 'Jon'.
But that's unlikely to happen because this isn't about propriety of name spelling. The not so sub- text is clear: the Muslims are taking over Europe and driving out traditional Christian values. This is a variation on the familiar arguments that 'it's not our country any more' or 'whites don't have rights in this country'. The truth is that this is not even just about Muslims. Hastings writes 'the Muslim population of Britain is growing extraordinarily fast'. He immediately follows this with 'In 2007, 28 percent of children born in England and Wales, rising to 54 percent in London, had at least one foreign born parent.'
Foreign born is not of course the same as Muslim. Many of these parents will be Australian, French, Italian. Some will be Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs. Conversely, many Muslim parents will not be 'foreign born' but second or third generation British.
Despite their 'Britishness' however, many Muslims suffer discrimination as a result of their race or religion. Muslims suffer some of the worst housing, poverty, education and jobs in Britain. They are a tiny minority in Europe (in Britain 2 million out of 60 million) but are portrayed in the media as dominant, aggressive and refusing to integrate, harbouring within their separate communities extremists and terrorists who want to destroy 'our way of life' and 'western values'.
This is a travesty. But the interesting question is why it happens and where it comes from. Of course there are the hardline racists and fascists. The BNP has increasingly campaigned over Muslims and Islam. The English Defence League have organised provocative demonstrations against Muslims. It was heartening to see so many people, Muslims and non Muslims, coming out onto the streets to stop them from marching in Harrow recently.
But the fascists have been encouraged at every turn by media and politicians, who have engaged in scapegoating. I see that Jack Straw is supposed to be willing to debate the fascist Nick Griffin on Question Time. But it was he who expressed concern at having to talk with women wearing the veil. Funny sense of priorities.
I was reminded of all this at the Stop the War student conference last week where the speaker from Fosis (the Islamic students' organisation) made a powerful speech quoting Shakespeare's Henry V. Max Hastings just wouldn't understand. He thinks 'it seems fantastically naive to suppose that many of these newcomers [to Britain] -or even their children born here- will start reading Jane Austen or tuning in to the Archers.'
If the Archers is the new 'cricket test' then we're really in trouble.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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