This article by former Tory peer, Baroness Shreela Flather, appeared in the UK Daily Mail on Friday, and consists of a broad-brush attack on Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim “migrants” (note: not all — perhaps not even most — Muslims of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin in the UK are migrants at all), accusing them of maintaining multiple families through polygamy so as to milk the state for benefits. The trick, supposedly, is to marry one wife under Islamic law (i.e. not officially) and another officially, so that one wife (and her children) gets benefits as a single parent, while another gets social security as a married couple.
Two articles have been published exposing the claims in Flather’s article: this one sheds some light on Flather’s background, while this one at Left Foot Forward notes that although birth rates among those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin in the UK are higher than average, they are “not so much higher as to assert there is a general culture of very large families”; according to a Runnymede Trust report published in 2005, their birth rates were both below 3, and thus “far too close to the replacement rate of 2.1 – or the mythical 2.4 children that was deemed to be the ‘normal family’ for most of the immediate post-war period, to be described as some epidemic of large families among these communities”. Furthermore, the rate had been in steady decline, year on year, since 1983. (Report in PDF here.)
I find its central claim about “migrants” being able to bring wives not officially married into the UK to be suspect. In Pakistan, Shari’ah law is the law as regards marriage; any marriage of Muslims within the Shari’ah (that is, up to four wives) is recognised. This is not the case in the UK, which is what would result in the wife being able to claim benefits as a single mother; but this raises the issue of what basis the wives use to migrate to the UK when they have no legally recognised relationship with any British citizen or resident. The man can only bring one wife, and the first wife (should any jealousy arise) could easily claim that she was the “real wife”, by British legal standards, as she was the first woman he married, as all such marriages are recognised in Pakistan. The marriages would have to be conducted in the UK for the second wife to be the official wife, yet how did either of the wives get to the UK? (I should make it clear that I am aware of similar scams being perpetrated by Muslims in the UK and USA for years and in fact some Muslim speakers and bloggers have condemned it. However, this does not explain how anyone can get a second wife into the country on this basis.)
What irks me most about this article, however, is the suggestion that Flather was “brave” to be making it. It’s not brave for a member of the Establishment to be making broad, unsubstantiated claims about an unpopular minority group in the popular press. Bravery requires that there be some risk of personal harm or loss (such as when an ordinary person speaks out about abuse going on within a powerful organisation), not merely the possibility of public censure. It seems that every time someone makes a public attack on Muslims, however ridiculous or insulting the claims are, the reputation for violence Muslims picked up during the Rushdie era (and that was more than 20 years ago) is exploited, when in fact nobody has ever suffered serious harm in the UK for making this sort of public statement and Flather has no more reason than anyone else who has done this (and there are many) to expect it to happen to her, given her long-standing middle-class status and lack of any real connection to the two communities she attacked. Her attack was not brave; it was cowardly.
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