Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it OK to say ‘mixed race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But…

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses it to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s what I call myself’.

‘Mixed heritage’ (or ‘mixed ethnicity’) is better. More syllables, admittedly, but meaningful. (‘Dual heritage‘ is as pointlessly limiting as the horrible phrase, ‘half-caste’ – which leads into a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon’.)

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing? Mostly they don’t, but skin colour can be used to describe an unknown person. In the local FB page incident a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race’.

Similarly, UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC4: [South] Asian. (Interestingly, there’s no IC code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed heritage.)

So there may be a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, in which case the words used matter.

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races’. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology, it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations aren’t races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Some say ‘race’ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations. Such slippery post-modern sophistry is used by racists to blur the issue.

Single-gene disorders associated with particular populations are the only significant difference. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European heritage.

Otherwise the differences, albeit visually obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about the danger of ‘miscegenation‘. There’s still cultural pressure not to ‘marry out‘. But – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot.

In the meantime, words matter.

Perhaps due to carelessness or laziness, the word ‘race’ is frequently used – misused – in non-racist media, by both black and white writers and speakers.

Also, strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘the human race‘. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase (and ‘the human subspecies‘ isn’t catchy) but ‘humanity‘ is better.

There is such a thing – albeit misnamed – as racism. Until racism ends, that word must continue to be used.

But there’s no reason to say ‘mixed-race‘. It’s loaded with colonial notions of white superiority. It should be left in the shameful past where it belongs.

Mixed heritage‘ celebrates our differences and embraces the mixing of them.

But some people say, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s how I describe myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a white saviour tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling African Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-heritage person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race’ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race‘ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

Maybe mixed-heritage people call themselves ‘mixed-race’, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’ (Maybe it’s to wind up mitherers like me. If so, Damn – you got me.)

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.

Fear of Islamophobia

In which I write a robust, generalised, secular humanist critique of Islam in the UK without being Islamophobic

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Nice art – shame about the self-segregation Photo: Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji

Warning: the following article contains strong opinions. Devout Muslims of simple faith may wish to move along; anyone else, please read on…

Am I Islamophobic, frightened of Islam? If I believed the many rabid anti-Islamic websites out there, saying that Muslim immigration is a Trojan horse, about to destroy democracy, I probably would be. But I dont; and I’m not.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, here in the UK, I’ll explain why I don’t much like Islam as it is at the moment; and how that doesn’t make me Islamophobic.

Fact: Oil-rich Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars on the international promotion of Wahhabism/Salafism, widely recognised as one of fundamentalist Islam’s most extreme movements. Much of the money funds children’s education in British faith schools and mosques.

Fact: A headteacher friend told me that in her mainly-Muslim state primary school the day after 9/11, Muslim children were singing pro-Osama bin Laden chants.

Fact: There were demonstrations in London by Muslims against the war in Iraq and against offensive cartoons, but there have been no demonstrations against al-Qaeda or Isis. PR statements of condemnation and claims that Islam is a religion of peace are made, but Muslims have not accepted any responsibility for the brutal terrorism coming from within their religion. Many Muslims resort to elaborate conspiracy theories or blame foreign policy to justify denial.

Fact: A UK opinion poll has indicated significant support amongst Muslims for young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria. Another poll showed that a significant number of UK Muslims believe the 2005 7/7 London bombings were justified because of the west’s war on terror.

Does writing those things in a blog make me Islamophobic?

Fact: Muslims are taught that they shouldn’t live in a non-Muslim country, but if they do, they shouldn’t befriend non-Muslims. (Actually, despite being a native non-believer – I’m agnostic – I find UK Muslims friendly. But the teaching is there.)

Fact: A religious message has been circulated calling for Muslims to foster or adopt refugee Muslim orphans to save them from the ‘alien environment’ of non-Muslim homes. (Many ‘alien’ non-Muslims had come forward, but very few righteous Muslims had done so.)

Is it Islamophobic to say those things?

Fact: According to supposedly reliable contemporaneous reports, the prophet Muhammad at the age of 54 began having penetrative sex with a nine-year old girl, who’d been his ‘wife’ since the age of six.

Islamophobia?

The accusation of Islamophobia is the knee-jerk defensive response by Muslim spokespeople to any criticism of Islam. This is like the accusation of antisemitism made in response to any criticism of Israel or Zionism. (See my blog on the weird word ‘antisemitism‘.)

Words matter. As a critic of Islam, am I Islamophobic? The suffix ‘phobia’ can mean ‘aversion’, but it’s usually taken to mean ‘irrational fear’ (as in ‘claustrophobia’, meaning fear of enclosed spaces). The widespread use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ deflects criticism. Critics must be either irrational or fearful or both, so they can be ignored. Say the magic word, and the criticism doesn’t need to be addressed.

Am I irrationally frightened of Islam? We all could be rationally frightened of Islam, after the horrors of 9/11 and 7/7. (I say ‘we all’, because some of the victims were Muslims.) But personally, in spite of that, I’ve got no fear of Islam – rational or irrational – or of Muslims in general. So no, I’m not Islamophobic.

Anti-Islamic‘ is better than ‘islamophobic’, but that’s not quite right either for a liberal critic of Islam. What if you don’t like Islam as it is, but you’re not actually against it? There should be a suffix or prefix for ‘dislike it as it is at the moment’ – but there isn’t.

There’s a long-term grumbling undercurrent in the British host community of semi-coherent resentment of the post-war immigration project. The sudden influx of large numbers of foreign people, many with foreign languages and religions, was a shock.

If the host community had been consulted and had agreed to mass immigration, there might gave been a more welcoming and trusting environment, which might have made integration more successful.

(My post, Patriotism – for scoundrels addresses the current policy of trying to promote integration by teaching ‘British values‘ in schools.)

When resentment and distrust are aimed at Muslims, as they sadly often are, ‘Islamophobia’ is as good a word as any to describe it. But it won’t do as a blanket response to any criticism.

Openly anti-Islamic racist groups in the UK and Europe try to stir up fear of Islam, but fortunately they have little support in the UK. However, any western criticism of Islam inevitably risks conflation with racism. Most UK Muslims are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin and are therefore, like all immigrant communities, victims of racism.

Victimhood can become a bad habit – hence, perhaps, the over-use of the provocatively misleading word ‘Islamophobia’ – but the victims aren’t to blame. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, racism is deeply embedded in British culture. Liberal critics of Islam should tread lightly.

(Racism is a different – albeit, related – subject, with its own deep-rooted complexity. See my post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct, which includes a detailed account of the racism-provoking self-segregation practised by a large minority of UK Muslims.)

Is there such a person as a moderate Muslim? Google it, and you find many writers and thinkers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, saying ‘No’. The Muslim ‘No’ argument is that it’s not acceptable to be moderately dedicated to Islam; ‘moderate’ Muslims are on the slippery slope to apostasy and Hell.

Ordinary Muslims – decent, honest and friendly – are moderate, aren’t they? Thats what an anxious host community would like to think. But a powerful and communal ideological commitment combined with a sense of being beleaguered can nudge the most ordinary person into a bunker mentality.

(UK Muslims’ sense of being beleaguered, or even persecuted, is somewhat ridiculous when compared to real persecution. See my article about the previously saintly Aung San Suu Kyi and her Myanmar goverment’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya Muslims, Halo Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis.)

Moderate or not, Muslims say that Islam isn’t just a religion, it’s a way of life – one which must be preserved, and not be contaminated by integration with the decadent host community. This reluctance to integrate is the cause of most of the criticism, and of the consequent paranoid accusations of Islamophobia.

Symptoms of the host community’s supposed decadence include our acceptance of homosexuality and equality for women, and our lack of religious faith.

Young UK Muslims are often torn between the Islamic lifestyle – which secures their position in their extended family and the wider Muslim community – and the western lifestyle, which isn’t really that decadent, and which has attractions other than the merely material – mainly, the freedom to live how you want, within the protective barrier of reason and secular law.

This tension is expressed in a few cases by joining Isis (to escape temptation and see the world); or lapsing; and in most cases isn’t expressed at all, but simply bubbles under the surface. Perhaps surprisingly, many Muslim families have one or more lapsed or semi-lapsed members who are still very much part of the family.

In any case, the non-western lifestyle of most UK Muslims is not purely Islamic. Pakistani and Bangladeshi cultural traditions – north Indian, as they were for centuries before partition – are mixed with Islamic principle. For instance, most Islamic weddings ignore Quran-ordained simplicity in favour of expensive three-day celebrations with lavish gifts of gold jewellery and clothes.

Other unislamic traditions are less benign. Most UK ‘honour’ killing victims from 2009 to 2014 were of Pakistani origin. (1)

Muslims are entitled, of course, to preserve their way of life (within the law of the land), whether it’s strictly religious or not. There are other insular ethnic-religious groups in the UK that insist on keeping to a special lifestyle – for example, orthodox Jews. But Muslims are the only such group who’s religion is associated with worldwide sectarian and anti-west violence.

Muslims often say that the violence is unislamic. Even if that’s accepted (perhaps with some scepticism), there’s a worrying tendency for the culture of Islam in the west to self-segregate into an ideological supremacist fortress – nicely symbolised by the provocative wearing of eye-slit face veils.

Secular humanists look on with wariness and some distaste – but not Islamophobia.

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Footnote

(1)’Honour’ killing victims: Of the 22 out of 29 reported cases of ‘honour’ killings and attempted killings in 2010 where the ethnicity of the victim was known or alleged, 15 were of Pakistani origin (3 were Indian, 1 was Bangladeshi, 1 Palestinian/Syrian, 1 Kuwaiti and 1 white British) – The Henry Jackson Society database – reported cases of ‘honour’ killings and attempted killings in the UK between 31 December 2009 and 31 December 2014.

(The neoconservative HJS has form for being anti-Islamic, but these statistics appear to be sound.)

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Postscript 1

I put this to some Muslim scholars, liberals and reformers. So far, there have been two respondents, both reformers. They say that Islam needs to shed man-made sects (Sunnism, Sufism and Shiitism), disregard the extra texts (hadiths) and rely on the Quran, the interpretation of which is human and fallible. However, reform can have a bad side. The Wahabi/Salafi movement is a reformist movement, albeit an ultra-conservative Sunni one. Christian Reformation’s Martin Luther, a nasty piece of work, was calling for the burning of synagogues some 500 years ago. Thank goodness for the Enlightenment.

Muhammad’s nine-year old ‘wife’

One respondent said that the hadith about Muhammad having sex with his nine-year old ‘wife’, Aisha, is fabricated. However, there are apparently many supposedly reliable hadiths attesting to this ‘consummation of marriage’.

Some Muslims argue that Aisha was aged between 15 and 19 when the marriage was consumated, but most Muslims seem to accept that it happened when the girl was nine. Many Muslims apparently deal with criticism about it by saying that in a tropical climate, as in Arabia, girls reach puberty earlier, and that the nine-year-old must have been sexually mature.

I haven’t found any scientific evidence of earlier female puberty due to a hot climate. (I found some contradictory evidence: that girls mature later in hot climates.)

In any case, the idea of a 54-year-old man having sex with a nine-year-old girl, even if by by some freak of nature she’d reached puberty, seems profoundly wrong – at any point in history.

(There are also claims in anti-Islamic sites that Muhammad practised ‘thighing‘ on his child bride before she was nine. None of the ‘evidence’ links work. This appears to be a complete fabrication.)

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Postscript 2

A UK Guardian article by political editor Anushka Asthana reported the concerns of a leading expert on race and integration that British society is increasingly divided along ethnic lines, with segregation in schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces. In another article in the same edition, Labour MP Chuka Umunna warned of a ‘more ethnically segmented nation‘. Neither article explicitly mentioned Muslim communities, but both mentioned Oldham, a town in Greater Manchester which in 2001 was the scene of violent ethnically-motivated rioting between between local and Muslim communities.

So how come two commentators gave views on increasing segregation without mentioning the Muslim community?

The first Guardian article mentioned above gave the views of Professor Ted Cantle. I emailed Cantle, Chukka Umunna and Anushka Asthana, asking if they’d avoided mentioning Muslims. Umunna and Asthana haven’t replied (but see Update 2, below). Cantle replied, saying: ‘I would very much like details of the extent of segregation of Muslim and other faith communities. Unfortunately most of the analysis is in relation to ethnicity. I suspect that Muslim communities have become more isolated, as they feel somewhat beleaguered, and other communities have moved away from Muslim-associated areas.’ (My bolding.)

On this blog article, he said: ‘I am wary of over-generalisations about the Muslim community. I have learnt over the last 15 years just how diverse it is – theologically, culturally, politically, nationally, socially etc. I thought your blog failed to represent this diversity, even if some of the points may have been fair comment.’ Ouch.

On the first point, surely ‘Pakistani’ is effectively synonymous with ‘Muslim’, so if you know that people’s ethnicity is Pakistani, you know their faith is Muslim; and it’s common knowledge that Muslim communities tend to choose segregation, especially in the case of education, for religious reasons.

I put this to Prof Cantle. He said that (contrary to what I was suggesting) most Muslims are not Pakistani. He referred me to a residential-pattern analysis of the 2011 census figures, which does indeed show that in 2011 there were 2.7 million Muslims, but only 1.1 million people of Pakistani origin. That’s a surprisingly (surprising to me, anyway) low 40%. (A further 646,000 people were of Bangladeshi, Turkish or Somali origin, and there were about 100,000 converts, leaving about 900,000 Muslims of unknown ethnic origin. Apparently.)

Fair enough – the census has spoken. So why did I think that most UK Muslims were of Pakistani origin? I think it’s because whenever Muslims appear in the UK media, whether ordinary people, politicians, community leaders, writers, artists, actors, musicians or TV pundits, they’re nearly always of Pakistani origin. In other words, UK Muslim culture is represented by people of Pakistani origin. So arguably, when analysing UK trends, ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ are effectively interchangeable.

Also, the census analysis addresses residential segregation; but what about educational segregation? That subject was discussed at length in the Guardian article – without any mention of faith groups. Can there really be no details available of the extent of educational segregation of Muslim and other faith groups? It’s well known that Muslims choose educational segregation for religious reasons, and that this has been a matter of high-profile public concern for some time (eg, the murky but inconclusive Trojan Horse affair). So it’s difficult to see how this can be overlooked in an in-depth expert review of the subject. (And what about the Wahabi/Salafi oil money funding UK faith schools?)

Other faiths have their own conservative schools, of course, most of which are funded by the state – whereas Muslim schools, on the whole, aren’t. The solution, though, is not to have more state-funded Muslim schools, but to end all state-funded faith schools, and enforce the teaching of the Enlightenment values of liberty, self-determination and personal responsibility that Western liberal democracy is built on. Western values, if you like. (Just dont call them ‘British’ values. See more on the legislation requiring the teaching of British values in my blog article, ‘Patriotism – for scoundrels‘.)

In any case, Muslim self-segregation applies to other areas of life as well.

I’ve since found that, contrary to what Prof Cantle said, there is published research on faith-based segregation. But for whatever reason, Cantle, Umunna and The Guardian are not discussing this. I suspect that the reason is their fear of being thought to be Islamophobic or – even worse – politically incorrect.

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Update 1

Another integration expert, Professor Tariq Modood, has told me that only 7% of Muslims choose Muslim faith-schools as compared with 50% of Jews.

However, that may be a function of the very low number of state-sanctioned Muslim schools as compared with other faiths. Also, the perception of educational segregation comes not so much from the numbers as from the illiberal Wahabi/Salafi teaching that is sought to be imposed.

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Update 2

Guardian polical editor Anushka Asthana (see Postscript 2, above) has finally replied (after some prompting) to my question about the two Guardian articles that discussed segregation without mentioning Muslims. She didn’t refer to the Chukka Umunna article; but she said that in her article, Prof Cantle did mention faith schools. However, I think the Guardian should set things right by explicitly addressing Muslim self-segregation.Top 🔼

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