Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ulster Muslims

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.

To quote:

"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.

Yours faithfully,



postliberal said...

If you want to hear racist, you should've heard my unkle one Christmas a couple of years ago!

It's fair to say that a large swath of opinion across the middle east, particularly amoungst dissadvantaged people, is deeply ambivilent about 'the West' - perhaps even more than the violence of certain dangerous groups. But that dissatisfaction - which seems to be compassionately felt by Muslims in this country - mustn't be pushed any further into resentment or hatred. With any luck, the voices of those who wish to affirm the best in the Ummah might be heard by them.

Rach said...

My dad is unbelievably un-PC! One thing he has said to me is I'd be better bringing home a coloured man or a woman than a Catholic - I'd love to bring home a coloured Catholic woman to see him pass out.

It's unbelievable. I'm now going into lower sixth. Only now are first years (this is the first year with the new course) being told about other faiths - and it's one week at the end of the summer term. I must admit I struggle differentiating (I struggle with it in maths too, of course) between different religions purely because I have been brought up in a country in which you are either Catholic or Protestant and that's the end of it.

I hope in a few years, on one of my flying visits to NI, to see NI more cosmopolitan in both race and religion and no longer a place when unionists and nationalists/catholic and protestants unite only to pick on those with diferent skins. It'll take some work and a few years but hopefully the country will get there.


Contemplative Activist said...


I would love to see you bring home a black Catholic to meet your dad! Please can I come to watch?

BTW - if you come over to the mainland to study, you'll not be long in getting to know lots of other races and religions. I think you'll love it - you're already very open minded and aware for someone in NI - I certainly didn't have your understanding at your age. (Oh, that is horribly patronising isn't it - sorry!)

PS. People prefer the term black to coloured ;). (Don't worry, my uncle - the one who has a Zimbabwean man living with him, calls black people darkies...I could die of embarrassment!) And no, that is not the worst of it!

Rach said...

I think I'll bring Tim home first - I doubt his reception will be too warm then - something like "hello, pleased to met you, have you ever seen a shotgun? Come and I'll show you mine..." (not that he has a gun... yet!). Plus all the mousetraps he'll put in front of the spare room's door! Never mind me bringing home a black Catholic! (Although it would be hilarious!)

I intend on studying in mainland - I really don't want to go to Queens! I can't wait for all the different people etc at uni! It doesn't really sound patronising - don't worry. Besides, I'm used to it.

You think "darkies" is bad? I'm sure there is worse my dad comes out with!


PS. I'd like to state for the record that I am not responsable for the welsh flag as my picture (changed now I think) It wasn't me - I'd only own a welsh flag to burn it. The person will be dealt with shortly - NI style of course.

Lorcan said...

Dear CA:

I fully endorce the sentiment of your post... however, I would say that there was, before the sease fire, support among the Republican ( some Protistants in that number... ) for the Irish Republican Army to a larger degree, than we assume there is support for terrorism among British Muslims. In point of fact a majority of the voters in the town of Derry were Republican, hence the jerimandering, where one third of the voters where given two thirds of the voting power.
In Belfast the late Robert Sands MP, was elected to Parliment while on hunger strike in the H Bloks of the Maze. Forced immagration of Catholics during the seventies and eighties made much of the support for the IRA an exile community in the United States. Contrary to the myths in the papers, the driving force behind support of Republicanism in Ireland was not from old established Irish American families, but recent ex-patriots, some of whom had been granted Political Asylum by American Courts.

To be fully nutral in such things takes an effort and I know many in the Republican community who forgive the effort of many who did not grow up under the stresses of being Catholic or Nationalist in the northern counties of Ireland. I know that the emotions of this struggle makes sesitivity hard. I lost several dear dear friends to the conflict, and have known loving and caring people of both loyalist and nationalist, and nuetral political persuasions in the six counties. I also happen to know that you CA, are an example of the great new hope for peace in that part of Ireland that I love so much and where I recieved such wonderful welcome on both sides of the divide. ( I also love the storries of your father and his transending the point of view of his community! I really love the story of him at the immagration museum... )

Slan go foil, a chara deas,

le meas,

Lorcan said...

PS My father... who was radical, not liberal, and radically progressive... said to me mum, that his greatest fear was that his kids would marry Catholics. He had the good graces never to say ANYTHING like that in front of my brother or I, so I did, of course... marry a Catholic ( Genie, sigh :).... oh yes, what was I saying.... ) and my brother married a Catholic girl... twice, really two Catholic girls, one at a time... Me ol'da in fact, when Genie turned me down... proposed that she should marry me... good ol' dad... then she did... hopefully more than just to please the old boy.


marc said...

At my wedding one of the guests went to the front, bowed and crossed herself on entering the church..cue a chorus of loud 'ocks' and 'who's thats?'from mum's side of the family-so funny.

ps Rach after the tent comments on my blog a Welsh flag will be the least of your worries...

Rich in Brooklyn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rich in Brooklyn said...

(re-posted with a correction)
Hi, Contemplative Activist:

15th Street Meeting in NYC wants to send a letter to all the local Friends Meetings in London. Could you send me or point me to a list of these meetings and their addresses?

I am using this comment to contact you, at the risk of clogging your blog, because I don't have your e-mail address ready at hand. You can feel free to delete this comment once you've read it.

As for getting back to me, I think you have my e-mail address, but if not feel free to post a comment on Brooklyn Quaker.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

P.S. I've been getting lots of comments at Brooklyn Quaker on my recent post "What Is It with the Quakers and Jesus Christ?", but most of it comes from people who more or less share my theological beliefs. Why not come over and offer a contrasting perspective?