Last week, the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released data on a variety of different topics pertaining to the United Kingdom, including the most popular baby names in 2009. The ONS statistics reveal that different variations of the name Oliver were the most popular name for English babies during that year, and also that if different spellings are not counted together, that Mohammed was the name most often used by parents to name their children.
On Friday’s Real Time With Bill Maher, host Bill Maher referenced the ONS data and asked, “Am I a racist to feel that I’m alarmed by that?” He continued, “I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?” Conservative guest Margaret Hoover replied, “If you were NPR, you’d be fired.” After Maher admitted that his comments were “similar” to Williams’s, guest Lawrence O’Donnell claimed that Maher’s statement is actually “way worse than what Juan Williams said”:
MAHER: I have another question, the most popular name in the United Kingdom, Great Britain, this was in the news this week, was Mohammed. Am I a racist to feel that I’m alarmed by that? Because I am. And it’s not because of the race, it’s ’cause of the religion. I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?
HOOVER: If you were NPR, you’d be fired.
MAHER: Right. That’s so similar to Juan Williams, who said last week —
O’DONNELL: No, no it’s way worse than what Juan Williams said.
HOOVER: What you said was way worse.
SALAM: As a Reihan Salam, I’m pretty comfortable with Mohammeds out there. […]
HOOVER: I think England has far bigger problems with Islam than they do names of their children. I think Sharia law being institutionalized in England is probably a bigger problem.
MAHER: Sharia law is being institutionalized in England?
HOOVER: Yeah, it parallels the legal system is England.
MAHER: Then I’m right, I should be alarmed, and I don’t apologize for it.
To start with, it is not a rational fear to look at the ONS numbers and become “alarmed” that the United Kingdom or the Western world is being taken over by Islam. The statistics do not mean that Muslims had more children than non-Muslims or even that there were more Mohammeds born in 2009 than children who were not named Mohammed. A more rational conclusion would be that Mohammed is the most popular name because Muslims are more likely to choose that particular name over other names for their children. In essence, it’s more of a sign of less originality in naming among the Muslim population. The UK is only 4.6 percent Muslim, hardly the number necessary for any sort of potential “Muslim takeover.”
Secondly, Sharia law has not been “institutionalized” in the UK. What Hoover is likely referring to are the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MATs). These completely voluntary arbitration tribunals are authorized by the country’s 1996 Arbitration Act and operate in a similar manner to all other civil arbitration: they allow conflicting parties to take their matters voluntarily under abitration and to be decided there. Like all other arbitration arrangements, the MTAs do not override British law and do not deal with criminal manners — just like civil arbitration institutions elsewhere in the world behave.