Richard Dart, the British Muslim convert who was one of six people arrested in an alleged terror plot in London, has been repeatedly described in the UK media as a “white Muslim.”
Dart, who now calls himself Salahuddin al Britani, apparently wants to establish Sharia law in the United Kingdom and has even bitterly condemned the royal family – two very un-British stances indeed.
However, I strongly object to the term “white Muslim” – it implies that the two labels are mutually exclusive.
There are, in fact, tens of millions of Muslims around the world who are “white” -- and no one would bother to call them “white Muslims.”
Consider that 80 percent of Albanians are Muslim, while large portions of the former Yugoslavia also adhere to Islam. Albania and the former Yugoslavia are both, of course, firmly European nations.
But let us not confine ourselves to Europe – countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran are overwhelmingly Muslim, and their native populations could certainly be considered “white.”
For example, the founder of the modern Turkish nation, Gamal Ataturk, had blonde hair and blue eyes; the man running Syria today, Bashar al-Assad, is very fair-skinned with light colored hair and eyes; and if you removed the turban and beard from Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, he would look undistinguishable from an Italian, a Frenchman or even an Englishman.
Why are Messrs. Ataturk, Assad and Khamenei not referred to as “white Muslims” (since they satisfy both requirements)?
Are they “less white” than Mr. Dart?
This is, of course, a very touchy subject on a number of fronts since it deals with sensitive issues of race, ethnicity, identity and religion.
While most anthropologists and ethnologists would regard many Middle Eastern peoples as “Caucasian” (or, in the popular vernacular, “white’), Western media and the general public do not accept that notion. Instead, they seek to “exoticize” and “stigmatize” Middle Easterners (particularly Muslims) as something “foreign” and representing the “other.”
Thus, we live in a bizarre Twilight Zone world where Greeks, Armenians and Israelis are generally considered “white” (because they are Christian or Jewish), while Turks, Persians and most Arabs are considered “non-white” (because they are mostly Muslim or non-Christian). This, despite the fact that there are virtually no substantial physical differences between any of these aforementioned peoples.
It is a cultural prejudice based on ignorance and misconceptions.
So, if an Englishman who converts to Islam is called a “white Muslim,” the same consideration should be given to tens of millions of other Islamic peoples who live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and even as far east as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Interestingly, the media no longer seems to refer to African-origin people who convert to Islam – like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali – as “Black Muslims” anymore, although that label was in wide usage decades ago. In fact, the infamous “Shoe Bomber,” Richard Reid, who was actually an Englishman of mixed race descent, was almost never called a “black Muslim” or “black convert” as I can recall. (Of course, black people are already so stigmatized that such appellations are unnecessary).
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.