If bus bombs are the worst that a multi-billion dollar organisation like al-Qaeda - which has, never forget, the active support of thousands and thousands of Muslims, and the tacit support of millions more - can resort to it is telling.
Hmmm, so writes Steven King in the Belfast telegraph which my mum picked up in the airport on her way to visit.
I grew up in Northern Ireland and most of my family still live there. It is a rather strange part of the world, a country of contrasts in many ways. There are those who say that the Northern Irish are amongst the most friendly and fun loving people you will ever meet. But, we are, as a whole unfamiliar with other cultures and religions. I used to joke to my Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist friends that if they came to visit me and someone asked if they were Protestant or Catholic and they replied that they were Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist, they'd probably be asked if they were a Protestant or Catholic Jew/Muslim/Buddhist.
I exaggerate, but back home we have few ethnic minorities, and very few people from non-Christian religious backgrounds. I am not sure that the Northern Irish, on the whole, have the same resentment towards people of other faiths/racial background that has existed in other parts of the country where the immigrant population is higher - Bradford srings to mind.
On the other hand, Ulster school children do tend to learn very little about other faiths. When I went to university at 18, I probably couldn't have given even a vague run down of the differences between Islam, Buddhist or Hinduism. (Judaism might have been the exception, what with Jesus being Jewish, so I knew a little about that).
My extended family tend to identify my non-white friends, not by their names but by their skin colour. Our conversations go something like...
"Is that wee Chinese girl coming over again?"
"Actually, she's vietnamese"
"Aye, but you know, the one with those eyes"
"You do realise she has a name"
"Oh, I can never remember those funny names. What was the name of that wee black girl you hang around with. Isn't there an Indian one too, you know the lighter one.."
Charming - but I should point out that I doubt this is racism, just ignorance and my family are always perfectly polite and welcoming to visiting foreigners (as they like to call them) and will try to pronounce more unusual names. Honestly, from a country where Orlaith is pronounced Orla, Niamh is pronounced to rhyme with Eve and Siobhan is pronounced shi-vawn, you'd imagine they'd be used to hard to pronounce names.
My uncle, who is probably the least politically correct person I know (I would be embarrassed to repeat some of his choicest phrases), went to Zimbabwe last year and somehow managed to invite a young black man to come and live with him in a very loyalist and rather notorious council estate in Belfast (I haven't met him yet, but apparently he's been generally very well received which is good to hear).
I think this really sets up a context of ignorance where those few Muslims living in Northern Ireland may be particularly vulnerable to prejudice and Islamophobia. Indeed, the BBC news have reported this to be a problem.
Al Quaeda has no more support from Muslims than the IRA has from Roman Catholics, and people need to be aware of this. I was heartened that yesterday's paper contained a report about religious leaders, including Dr Zaki Badawi, the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams, uniting to condemn the attacks.
However, I remain uncomfortable with Steven King's comments about Al Quaeda having the tacit support of millions of Muslims. If you want to let him know, then please email:
I have sent the following email:
Dear Features Editor,
I was deeply concerned when I read some of your coverage of the London bombings on 9/7/05. In particular, Steven King's remarks concerning Al Quaeda having the active support of many thousands of Muslims and the tacit support of millions more.
"If bus bombs are the worst that a multi-billion dollar organisation like al-Qaeda - which has, never forget, the active support of thousands and thousands of Muslims, and the tacit support of millions more - can resort to it is telling." (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/features/story.jsp?story=651756)
This is simply not the case, Muslims and their leaders have united with politicans and religious leaders from all faiths to condemn the London bombings, as you subsequently reported on 11/07/05. (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=652076)
It is worth remembering, that the small Muslim community living in Northern Ireland, and the mosque in Belfast were attacked following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, and that Muslims living in Northern Ireland are particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding and prejudice (see for example Javaid Rehman's findings earlier this year, as reported in the BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4210283.stm).
We in Northern Ireland, know only too well the impact that acts of violence can have on community relationships. There is no more Islamic support for Al Quaeda than their is support for the IRA from the Roman Catholic church, or support for the activities of Loyalist paramilitaries from the Protestant churches.
I would urge you, as one of the main sources of media in Northern Ireland to be careful about the comments you make concerning the Muslim community, and to take some responsibility upon yourselves for reporting on the Northern Irish Muslim community in order to inform and reassure the general public about the peaceful nature of Islam as practiced by our Muslim neighbours.