Northern Ireland rises against political leaders’ racism

Gathering against racism: The people of Northern Ireland demonstrating outside Belfast City Hall [Images: Dermot O' Lymm, as used by Channel 4's news website].

Gathering against racism: The people of Northern Ireland demonstrating outside Belfast City Hall [Images: Dermot O’ Lymm, as used by Channel 4’s news website].

A guest blog by Jason O’Ruairc

“What do you not trust those who are followers of Islam in doing? I’ll be quite honest. I wouldn’t trust them in terms of those who have been involved in terrorist activities. I don’t trust them if they are fully devoted to Sharia law. I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance. Would I trust them to go down to the shops for me? Of course I would.”

If you live outside Northern Ireland you might not recognise these words, since the events surrounding their utterance have gone largely unreported by the UK media, and a timely bomb in Derry’s Everglades Hotel has served to eclipse the story, if that were needed. So, just in case you missed it, here in summary is what’s going on:

Quoted above are the words of Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, given in an interview to John Manley of the Irish News, in which Robinson made a show of support for a controversial preacher from Belfast’s Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. In a sermon that was broadcast on the internet, Pastor James McConnell condemned Islam as a “heathen” and “satanic” religion, and a “doctrine spawned in Hell.” He also stated that he didn’t trust Muslims and that “Enoch Powell was a prophet,” referring to Powell’s famous 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Violence against ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland is on the increase; according to one report there are two attacks per day, an increase of 43 per cent from 2013. Belfast is now being referred to as the ‘Hate Crime Capital’ of the UK. Given this context, it is easy to see Pastor McConnell’s words as irresponsible and inflammatory. However, more remarkable is the support offered to this supposed man of God by our First Minister, whose job it is to serve the interests of every citizen. Peter Robinson has attended Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in the past, and says that he will do so again. He is not the only one from his party, the DUP, to do so; notably Health Minister Edwin Poots is also a regular worshipper.

The pastor is reported to be under investigation by the PSNI for a potential hate crime, however, on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan show, aired on Wednesday (May 28), McConnell denied that he had yet been contacted by the police. On the same show he demonstrated a complete ignorance of Islam – for example calling Sharia law “Sharara law” – and he refused to accept that his words were irresponsible, or could be construed by some people as an incitement to violence. In fact, he appeared to be completely out of his depth on every point put to him by Dr. Khalid Anis of the Islamic Society of Britain. Despite being given the opportunity to retract and pour oil on troubled waters like a good Christian, the pastor clung doggedly to his position.

Now, let’s go back to the quote we began with. If David Cameron had come out with the kind of patronising, intolerant, condescending, stereotyping rhetoric that Peter Robinson had, you might imagine that his career as Prime Minister would be swiftly over. But our First Minister, perhaps after consultation with his advisers this time, had no such concerns and instead commenced a half-hearted damage limitation exercise. He almost apologised, saying in a statement that his words had been “misinterpreted,” and accepted an invitation to visit the Belfast Islamic Centre where he made an apology to three people behind closed doors.

On Friday, together with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Robinson met with the Turkish ambassador to discuss trade opportunities. Turkey is 99 per cent Muslim. I can’t help wondering how the conversation went: was there any awkwardness, or did Peter just pat the ambassador on the head and ask him to nip down the shops for some chocolates? I suppose we’ll never know. Criticism of Robinson’s support for McDonnell has come from many sectors of society. In particular, Muslim healthcare professionals including leading surgeons, have expressed their discomfort with Minister Poots’ attendance at McConnell’s church, some saying that they would be inclined to leave Northern Ireland, and others calling for the First Minister to resign. As I write, Peter Robinson hasn’t resigned.

There have been other political casualties: Hong Kong-born Alliance MLA Anna Lo broke down in tears during an interview as she described the vulnerability she feels every day and the constant racial abuse and attacks she suffers. She has decided to leave politics at the next election, and is seriously considering quitting the country altogether. Unsuccessful UUP local election candidate Colin Houston resigned from the party after being suspended following his haranguing defence of Pastor McConnell on the aforementioned Nolan show, where he shouted: “The Christians are starting to stand up; we’re not having it no [sic] more.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear what he and his brethren were not “having […] no more” of. Inexplicably for an Ulster Unionist, he also shouted at George Galloway to go “away back to Britain.” He’d only been in the party for three weeks.

From my summary of the week’s events it may seem as though we live in a sanctioned hunting ground for bigots, who are encouraged by some of our political and spiritual leaders to go out and ethnically cleanse their streets. But despite this pervasive ignorance and prejudice, there is still hope, and I want to finish on a positive note. On Thursday evening a call went out on social media for an ‘Emergency Anti-Racism Rally’ outside Belfast City Hall. I attended the rally, along with thousands of others, and it was heartening to see the support and solidarity for the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The fact that so many people came together at such short notice gives some indication of the strength of feeling about the issues of racism and sectarianism in our society. Anna Lo told us that she was going to stay in the country, and was rapturously applauded by all, regardless of their political views. I’m not from Northern Ireland myself; I’m a blow-in from across the water. But my adopted home of over 20 years is the most welcoming, creative, inspiring, and just-plain-brilliant place I’d ever want to live in. I love it here, and I’m not alone in that.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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10 thoughts on “Northern Ireland rises against political leaders’ racism

  1. Bryn miller

    Whilst this mans utterances may be offensive to many,I draw your attention to the muslim hate preacher Ajem Choudary who openly condemns the west and their culture and yet enjoys the life styles it offers.He spits out hatred and venom and certainly incites violence,Yet he is free to carry on his antics (with police protection) without consequence.Is this acceptable ?

    1. Mike Sivier

      You mean Anjem Choudary?
      I’m not familiar with this person but if your statements are accurate then no, it isn’t.
      Choudary was born in Welling and is a British citizen. He should be prosecuted under the Public Order Act if he stirs up racially- or religiously-motivated crime.

  2. Geoff Foxwell

    “A Heathen and Demonic Religion” and with “A doctrine spawned in Hell”. I for one have to agree with that statement, at a guess I’m not alone either.
    The Muslim Faith doesn’t belong in Ireland, In Northern Ireland or Southern Ireland for that matter. As far as I can see, Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle said it all. And truthfully as well, “as I would have expected from a Pastor”. For some reason I can’t help thinking that Vox Political aka the “mouthpiece of the Labour Party” is even more to the Left than the leader of the LP. Don’t they realise that not every Socialist agree’s with their view’s on Immigration and not many Conservatives do either. What give’s me a clue is that when an unknown and new Political Party aka UKIP started mentioning limiting the number of people coming into this country they gained many seat’s and were Smash Hit’s.Until today I never realised that Northern Ireland had problem’s with the “Muslim Hoard’s”. Do they have Mosques there as well?. I have never been to Northern Ireland but have been to the ROI, It was about 20 year;s ago but can’t remember seeing any Mosques in Dublin. I do realise that the ROI has different government from the government in Northern Ireland though. Regards Geoff, Nottingham UK.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Who are you to dictate where any faith belongs, Geoff? If you’re saying Islam doesn’t belong in Ireland because it’s a foreign faith, well, so is Catholicism; so is Protestantism. Try to purge that land of those beliefs and see how far you’d get!

      These religions are meant to have universal appeal and if someone in Northern Ireland happens to be a Muslim, that is none of your concern.

      These comments, and the others you make here, seem calculated to encourage racial or religious intolerance and are not welcome here. I look forward to your retraction.

      Incidentally, Labour Party politics has nothing to do with any of this. Your attempt to drag it into the discussion is risible.

      1. Paul Delaney

        Come on Mike, not familiar with Choudary ?, Islam in Ireland ?, Islam belongs in the 12th century and should be contained in hot arid countries.

        I guess you are playing Devils Advocate ?
        You must have noticed news reports recently about the 3 months pregnant girl stoned to death by her family outside a court of law in a hot sandy arid country ??

        Or maybe the woman chained by her ankle to the floor of a cell and allowed to have and nourish her baby for a couple of years before she too is slaughtered ?

        Or some English soldier having his head hacked off by two poor out of work Islamic extremists ?

        I’m frightened and worried Mike, frightened for my grand children, frightened for this country, in fact for the world.
        And it’s about time people stopped being ever so, ever so, and started telling it like it is, and that is this, it’s frightening.

      2. Mike Sivier

        That’s three examples from a religion numbering hundreds of millions – and if you haven’t noticed, there are plenty of Christians, atheists and who-knows-what-else out there committing crimes the like of which you’ve never imagined in your darkest moments.
        It’s a big, bad world, Paul – blaming Islam, and putting all your fear and hate into those people, just makes you easier prey for those who are closer to your home.
        I’m going to stand by my words. There are extremists of all kinds, everywhere – and there are good people too, in Islam as much as anywhere else. That’s telling it like it is.
        And no – I wasn’t aware of this Choudary person. The fact that you are suggests you have more than a passing acquaintance with – and interest in – this subject.

    2. Pauline Vernon

      I don’t agree with your condemnation of Islam, Geoff, nor do I agree with your love of the greengrocer’s apostrophe, but I do at least accept that you are entitled to voice your opinions of both religion and punctuation.

      However, while you are almost certainly not in a position to cause much more than a local annoyance, Peter Robinson does not have the luxury of your anonymity but is First Minister of Northern Ireland. If any country should at least be trying to embrace religious tolerance, it’s Northern Ireland. I find it disturbing to read of what appears to be constitutional bigotry, but heartening to read of the spontaneous reaction to that bigotry.

      Thanks, Mike, for bringing this issue to a wider audience.

  3. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    The rise in racism in Northern Ireland is a recent development. I can remember a few years ago when one of the constituencies in the Six Counties elected a lady Taoist of Chinese descent to represent them. Hope Not Hate’s Matthew Collins in his book about his six or so years in the NF and BNP, the appropriately named ‘Hate’, says that while the UDA was keen to have the support of British Fascists, they weren’t actually very keen on their racism. One issue of the UDA magazine, ‘Ulster’, had an article laying down the law demanding the attacks on Chinese restaurant owners and staff should staff. The UDA was one of those proscribed by Thatcher as a terrorist organisation. The rise in racism in Ulster has been blamed on a crisis of identity amongst some Ulster Protestants after the Good Friday peace accords. From the anti-Islam comments of Pastor McConnell, it’s also a reaction to 9-11 and the rise in the persecution of Christians, as well as other religious and ethnic minorities, in Islamic states. The flames of prejudice are also being stoked by British Fascists and Far Right organisations like the BNP and the EDL. Nick Griffin went over there to encourage the Northern Irish to form an Irish version of his party. After the devastation and lives lost through decades of political violence, I would have thought that the very last thing Ulster needed was more of the same. Ordinary, normal politicians prepared to work through conventional legal channel for the good of the people of Ulster – and for that matter, Britain and Ireland- regardless of their faith or colour is what’s needed.

      1. beastrabban

        It sounds certainly sounds like it, Mike, but it’s so long since I read the article I couldn’t say for sure.

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