|Khalid Masood - Before|
The British media initially reported that the Westminster terrorist was "Asian."
This turned out to be false.
Khalid Masood was actually born Adrian Russell Elms of Kent, to a single-mother who was either Jamaican or of Jamaican origin. I do not know whether the ethnic background of his biological father is known or has been reported, but there's no reason to think he was from Asia. Later, the mother would marry Phillip Ajou, who is believed to be Nigerian. The boy would later, for a time, use the last name "Ajou."
He had a relatively affluent upbringing, and the elder Mr. and Mrs. Ajou now live what has been described as an "idyllic" life in the Welsh countryside. Mrs. Ajou sells handmaid cushions.
Reports indicate that the Ajous are Christian.
So why was he identified as "Asian"? Let's go back a step.
In the latter half of the 20th century in Britain, "Asian" was the designation put on immigrants and their descendants from, wait for it . . . Asia. Or more precisely, it was primarily used to denote immigrants or their descendants from the former British colony of India - what we now call Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, or what has also been called "South Asia."
Until the 1960s and perhaps even into the 1970s, the South Asian population of the United Kingdom was primarily Hindu, Sikh and Christian. But at some point the Muslim proportion came to dominate. Population statistics on ethnicity and religion are notoriously unreliable and fuzzy, but it's almost certain that there are now two or three times as many Muslim South Asians in Britain as there are non-Muslim South Asians. And, of course, that excludes other Asians, such as Chinese - apparently a fast-growing immigrant group - and non-South Asian Muslims, such as those from the Middle East and Africa, as well as "white" converts.
So, again, why did they call Masood an "Asian"?
The answer, obviously, is that "Asian" is now used in Britain as a euphemism for Muslim. And the attacker did appear to be Muslim. Most obviously he had a "sunnah beard" or "Muslim beard" - an untrimmed beard with a trimmed mustache.
The man now known as Khalid Masoode took on the beard when he converted to Islam.
|Khalid Masood - After|
Ethnic groups often have associated stereotypes about their "look." Black africans have big lips and "afros." Chinese have "slit eyes." Jews have big noses. Whites have . . . well it depends on what kind of white you are and which of your cosmetic "components" others want to emphasize - southern europeans are "swarthy" and perhaps even dirty. The English are thin and pale, etc.
All of these contain a kernel of truth, of course, while at the same time often being more or less offensive and racist.
Now, it's an obvious fact that "Muslim" is technically a religious, not an ethnic or racial designation, though many try to obscure it. At the same time, one of the things that makes Islam stand out from some (though not all) other religions, is the quasi-requirement to have a certain look, which for males means having an untrimmed beard and a non-existent or light and trimmed mustache.
You can't change your ethnicity, but you can change your religion. And going along with that, you can't get rid of your curly hair or big nose or "swarthiness" (well in some cases you sort of can, but still), but you can change your beard.
The Muslim beard thing is not merely an arbitrary cultural accretion but is implied in the Koran and explicitly discussed in the Hadith and Sunnah - the sayings and traditions of Muhammed.
Muhammed and the early Muslim leaders wanted Muslims to stand out from "pagans" and non-Muslims. They (non-Muslims) had trimmed beards and bushy mustaches. Muhammed essentially said, "we'll do the opposite":
Trim your mustaches and let your beards grow and do not emulate the JewsThis is from a Hadith recorded by al-Saduq, and is just one of many similar statements by Muhammed and other authorities. Students of Islamic history should also note that in these contexts, "don't be like the Jews" comes up often.
If anything most clearly outwardly identifies a devout male Muslim by birth or by conversion, it's the untrimmed beard with a trimmed mustache. Chinese Uighurs have it (or many of them do), blonde Chechens have it, and British converts, whether red-haired and freckly or curly-haired and Jamaican, have it.
Isis punished people who didn't have it. That this was perhaps unfair to some of the fairer-skinned and less naturally hairy fighters was sometimes remarked upon (though, usually, quietly).
So how about this? Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that using "Muslim" to denote the background of the terrorist of the day is politically incorrect. But let's also admit that "Asian" or "Tunisian-French" or even and especially "German citizen" (to pick three recently used designations of terrorist suspects) are all to some degree misleading or even close to meaningless.
How about using, instead, "untrimmed-bearded," as in "untrimmed-bearded knifer" or "untrimmed-bearded driver" or "the shooter who had an untrimmed beard"?
The lack of a prominent mustache would be implicitly part of the description but would be dropped to save words.
Ignore what I earlier said about the historical religious tradition. Such a designation doesn't positively denote a Muslim. The suspect could be an Eastern Orthodox priest with a mustache aversion, or a lazy or indifferently groomed Sikh with a mustache aversion or perhaps just a fashionable rapper from Philly.
"Ah ha!" the anti-Islamophobes might say, "that would just be to use 'untrimmed-bearded' as a stand-in for 'Muslim.' That's so racist.
To which we, if we are truthful, would have to answer, "of course it's a stand-in."
But racist is precisely what it is not.