Recently, I've been hearing an absolute plethora of sweeping statements about Muslims - mostly from middle of the road moderate Christians. I'm as cynical as they come these days, but even I've been surprised by the level of ignorance and hatred that's coming out of the mouths of normally gentle and calm people.
My favourites include, "Our religion is one of love, their's is one of hate." "Our God is forgiving, their God is full of vengeance." Hello - have you read the Old Testament? Why exactly did God need innocent blood to placate his wrath? What was that I heard about unbelievers burning in hell for all eternity, that's ok is it?
People keep saying the Muslim community should do more to prevent terrorism in their communities. Well - why is that? Is it Muslims' fault that young Muslims are becoming increasingly frustrated? And whose backyard is terrorism springing up in anyway? Do terrorists belong to the Muslim community? Or do they belong to our communities?
There's barely a person around High Wycombe (where I've been living and working for 8 months) that doesn't have some personal contact with the people who were recently arrested on suspicion of terrorism. I have met their neighbours, their friends and their former school teachers. One of the London bombers came from just up the road in Aylesbury. Terrorists come from our communities and its all of our responsibilities to work towards preventing terrorism.
The Muslim community here has taken action, but they cannot control loose canons. Leafleting is banned around mosques as people were handing out highly charged leaflets outside one of the mosques. The imams around here preach peace and tolerance. In fact, my experience of the Muslim community here (we live right in the middle of a predominantly Muslim area, and many of my clients at work were from the Muslim community) has been very positive - they are peaceful, welcoming and hospitable people. But, just like we can control loose canons in the Christian community, the Muslim community cannot prevent all extremism. I grew up in Belfast - there were certainly dodgy people in my church and a friend of mine from church wound up in prison for attempted murder which had something to do with paramilitary involvement - no-one ever preached a message of hatred or violence in the church I went to - yet, people still got involved with the paramilitaries and said they did it "for God and Ulster." (Interesting, that in the past when people talked about religion and violence, Christians in Northern Ireland were the top example, now its the Muslims.)
Its not enough to point our fingers at the Muslim community, and thereby increase the sense of suspicion and distrust they are very likely to experience in the current climate. Frankly, it does not help to make sweeping statements about Muslims. Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether we are doing all we can to work for justice for the Islamic people - what are we doing for the Palestinians or regarding the Kashmir conflict? What are we doing while our government liberally blows Islamic nations to shreds in Afghanistan and Iraq? What are we doing to support isolated and frustrated young Muslims, who care deeply about the situations their brothers & sisters find themselves in across the world, to get involved in the political process and ensure that out government takes positive action?