We must embrace our Muslim community as part of who we are

New Zealanders didn’t think they were a target, either. Our gun control is better.

We must embrace our Muslim community as part of who we are

New Zealanders didn’t think they were a target, either. Our gun control is better.

But does anyone seriously think the Christchurch massacres couldn’t happen in an Irish mosque?

There was a “mosque invasion” in Kilkenny, when a small group entered the mosque and questioned the imam about the so-called threat Muslims pose to Ireland.

Groups affiliated to Pegida in Germany (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) demonstrated in 2015 against mosques in Tralee and Killarney. Pegida Ireland launched outside the GPO in 2016 and Identity Ireland has registered as a political party with an anti-immigrant agenda.

Though Ireland currently scores low for Islamophobia by international standards, there is plenty here and lots of scope for it to grow.

A tweet from Gemma O’Doherty, who hoped to run for the Presidency last year, which she posted in the wake of the New Zealand massacres, should raise the hair on all our heads.

She said the atrocity “has all the hallmarks of a classic false flag operation to incite fresh IS attacks, allow the globalists take more control over people and remove freedom a la 9/11. A professional job. The public are no longer fooled.”

The grieving family of Mucaad Ibrahim, who was only three when he was killed in the attacks last Friday, have most certainly been “fooled” into thinking a vicious, racist attack ended the life of their precious boy.

The hundreds of grieving relations of the other 49 who were dead at the last count were “fooled” in the same way.

Imagine if by some fluke, Gemma O’Doherty had got to the Aras?

Alright, she didn’t even get to be a candidate, but few gave Donald Trump a chance either and it is arguable that his shameless targeting of Muslims with a travel ban has provided leadership for racist extremists.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six Muslims in a mosque in Montreal in 2014 said it was Justin Trudeau’s refusal to follow Trump’s lead which made him “lose his mind” and “think that it was time to go”, while the Christchurch murderer, Brenton Tarrant said he regarded Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” He is Australian and you can argue that, as such, he is not New Zealand’s “fault”.

You can argue that extremism is an international phenomenon and all we can offer Irish Muslims is enhanced security. I don’t agree. Islamophobia is a bit like climate change — changes in the atmosphere here add to the global temperature.

We must recognise, before there is another horrific attack, that right wing extremism is now our biggest threat and that Islamophobia is growing fast.

We must turn our education system around to make Islam understood as part of what we are, part of what we have always been. “They are us”, in the words of New Zealand premier, Jacinda Ardern.

If it doesn’t prevent another international attack, at least it would make life decent and dignified for Irish Muslims.

We should counter our Islamophobia by approaching Islam from our own cultural background. Most of us were schooled by Christians. Islam has the same basic values.

It is one of the three great faces of Monotheism, the other two being Christianity and Judaism, which is the root of all three.

Adherents of the three religions will have their own faith stories.

If you leave faith aside you can see that these three religions encode rules for functional and progressive societies which helped bring a large part of the Eurasian continent to a high level of civilisation and compassion.

The story of our interconnectedness is not told in our schools.

While schools across Northern Ireland are rolling out Arabic classes as part of a British Council initiative to foster cultural richness and mutual understanding, here the second most important international language for an English-speaker to learn is rarely offered.

This determined blindness to our cultural connection to Islam and our physical connection to the Middle East was not caused by social media.

It goes back to the Crusades.

Islamophobia is, as expressed in a letter signed by a long, international list of Muslim leaders in The Guardian this week, “systemic and institutionalised”.

In Ireland, it is culturally acceptable. I have heard it from several well-educated friends and acquaintances, in comments suggesting Muslim girls should not be allowed to wear veils for fear our girls will have to, that Islam is barbaric and that Muslims will subject us to violence because they regard us all as “The Infidel.”

Sometimes Islamophobia lurks under the cover of liberal concern: Muslim women need to be released by us from the veils they say they like but don’t really; they need to be freed from Muslim men who forced them into marriage and probably beat them.

Along with hostility from traditional racists, Muslims often face misunderstanding from so-called liberal secularists.

In Ireland in 2013, when Ali Selim published a book entitled Islam and Education in Ireland calling for a “revolution” in Irish education to help Muslims feel more included, Atheist Ireland responded by saying that there was already too much time allocated to religious festivals in Irish schools and said they “looked forward to all schools recognising Darwin Day and International Blasphemy Rights Day.”

Muslims affront our new secularism by being openly religious. It is their women who suffer the most from Irish intolerance, according to research published by the Irish Refugee Council, being twice as likely to suffer racist abuse because their head-scarves make them identifiable.

Much energy is expended talking about an inoffensive piece of cloth, similar to the ones our mothers and grand-mothers wore to run out to the shops if they had curlers in and to the mantillas they wore to Mass.

In ancient Constantinople, Christian women covered their heads while Muslim women didn’t.

You wouldn’t think a head-scarf could possibly cause anyone trouble in today’s Ireland it does, repeatedly, for Muslim girls, who get pulled, called names and denied jobs because they want to wear one.

Let’s be clear about this: wearing such a symbol of religious identity should be an absolute right. Being a Muslim should never exclude a child from a secondary school or from a job as a teacher.

These frontiers, defined in their research by the Irish Refugee Council, must be constantly monitored. There are currently 65,000 Muslims in Ireland but Islam is the fastest growing religion in Ireland and by 2043, Islam will be Ireland’s second biggest religion.

The best way to navigate this future is by embracing Irish Muslims as a valuable part of what we are.

As New Zealand prepares to mark last week’s atrocity with a two minute silence while adherents of Islam attend Friday prayers we need to adapt Jacinda Ardern’s words for this country’s Muslims: “Ireland is their home. They are us.”

Sometimes Islamophobia lurks under the cover of liberal concern.

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