Muslims inbred – but did he say it?

The ‘inbreeding’ row, sparked by Environment Minister (!) Phil Woolas, is yet to reach Pakistan – but it will and the consequences are sure to be ugly.

As far as I can tell, Woolas’s remarks were made to the Sunday Times and triggered an article with the headline: Minister warns of ‘inbred’ Muslims. On Sky News, a few minutes ago, Asghar Bukhari, from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, complained vociferously about the Minister’s comments. He had two main complaints: the use of the highly pejorative word ‘inbreeding’ and the Minister’s assignation of the problem to ‘Muslims’ rather than Pakistanis from certain rural areas.

Good points. In a week where the Archbishop of Canterbury has plunged the UK into a fire storm of controversy over Shari’a law, how could the Minister be so stupid as to make the cardinal error of using such an insensitive term, and then compounding it by lumping together all Muslims as if they come from a single homogeneous community? These errors poison relations between communities in the UK, and play directly into the hands of those who want Muslims to behave like a group unified by their persecution.

But then I read the article, which Mr Bukhari appeared to have in front of him as he made his complaints. Here are all the direct quotations from the Minister that the article re-printed (the words in [square brackets] are not his) :

[the culture of arranged marriages between first cousins was the] “elephant in the room”

“The issue we need to debate is first cousin marriages, whereby a lot of arranged marriages are with first cousins, and that produces lots of genetic problems in terms of disability [in children].”

“If you talk to any primary care worker they will tell you that levels of disability among the . . . Pakistani population are higher than the general population. And everybody knows it’s caused by first cousin marriage. That’s a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. It is not illegal in this country.

“The problem is that many of the parents themselves and many of the public spokespeople are themselves products of first cousin marriages. It’s very difficult for people to say ‘you can’t do that’ because it’s a very sensitive, human thing.”

“The health authorities look into it. Most health workers and primary care trusts in areas like mine are very aware of it. But it’s a very sensitive issue. That’s why it’s not even a debate and people outside of these areas don’t really know it exists.”

And here’s a crucial indirect quotation:

Woolas emphasised the practice did not extend to all Muslim communities but was confined mainly to families originating from rural Pakistan. However, up to half of all marriages within these communities are estimated to involve first cousins.

So if Woolas used the word ‘inbred’, it’s not quoted in the article. Instead, it can be found only in the headline. Woolas also went out of his way to underline that first-cousin marriage was a cultural matter, not a religious one; and that it was not a custom followed by all British Muslims, but was confined to those whose families come from rural Pakistan.

It would be nice to have answers to three questions. Did Woolas claim that Muslims were inbred in parts of the interview that have not been quoted in the Times report? If not, what on earth did the paper think it was doing? And would Asghar Bukhari accept that MPACUK’s mission to “defend Muslim interests and Islam throughout Britain and the world” was not best served by hard line he took in his Sky interview?

I’ll post more as the Pakistani media begins to react to the Minister’s remarks…