Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A little matter of Islamophobia

I have been following a wide ranging discussion on Islamophobia on another blogsite. It has sometimes been a painful discussion and there have been accusations of racism. There have also been flounces, defensiveness, teddy-out-of-the-pram sulks, some soul-searching and a lot of bravery and honesty. Some folk have made themselves quite vulnerable in the debate, but above all I believe the original post and the comments string come from good intentions and everyone remained with their integrity intact, even if having to agree to differ.

This is a difficult topic and one which can so easily slip into racism, particularly if discussed by those with little knowledge or understanding of the issues. There is innate prejudice in modern society together with stereotyping and scapegoating, often from the basis of misinformation and ignorance which much of our right-wing press has been allowed to peddle as fact. We should not be surprised that Britain's Muslim community feel embattled when, without little protest from the liberal elite, or anyone with a modicum of common sense, so much vitriolic rubbish has been offered as informed truth. All assylum seekers are given mobile phones by the government according to the British National Party. It is not true, but people are willing to believe without proper consideration. After all no-one likes the idea of someone getting something for nothing, and if they're foreign and Asian too, well.....

Misinformed resentment.

Lets not let factual inaccuracy get in the way of good piece of hate-journalism.

We need to be clear that if the British public was given its way over the issue of ethnic minorities and immigration we would have forced repatriation and even concentration camps. This is a public, by the way, which largely believes that the terms "refugee" and "assylum seeker" mean either terrorist or illegal immigrant. Either way "they" are out to do us down and should be sent home. I believe the above to be a fair and accurate assessment on the basis of my long experience as a teacher of both Citizenship and Religious Studies.

It is hard to be an Asian in Britain today. My Sikh friends are routinely racially abused and called Paki - a total misnomer as their ancestors came from India, but it doesn't matter because "they are all the same. All Asians are Muslims and they are all terrorists" as one pupil told me this week.

My school is on the edge of Bradford, a run down deprived city with a large Asian community. My school pupil-profile is 97% white.

I have a number of Muslim and Sikh colleagues and I am privileged to know them and count them as friends. Some are religious and some are not. One is an avowed Athiest. All are good decent people. There is not a potential terrorist or religious extremist amongst them. What there is is wit, humour, humility, kindness and a generosity of spirit so sadly lacking in many of their pupils and their pupils' parents. One gentle young woman has just returned from the Hajj and her face is radiant with the spirituality of the experience.

Apparently I should be afraid of her.

O God, you created all people in your image. We thank you for the astonishing diversity of races and cultures in this world.

We acknowledge before you, Lord, our disproportionate fear of terrorism and the incipient eddies of Isamaphobia in our society. We nevertheless lift before you our security and intelligence gathering services as they seek to protect us from those who would do us harm and we ask that your guidance, discernment and inspiration be with them as they filter the intelligence and assess the risks.

Your son commanded us, O Lord to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Help us in our dealings with our Muslim neighbours and colleagues, we pray, to extend the spirit of friendship and empathy so that in countless small ways the mutual barriers of mistrust, fear and paranoia that so often exist between us may be broken down by the simple warmth of everyday human contact and the fostering of friendships. May we, as Christians, strive to understand the deep mistrust and resentments that British foreign policy has engendered in the Muslim community here and, in expressing that sensitivity and perception, make hatred harder to sustain. At the same time we ask that your Holy Spirit would blow through the House of Islam and inspire those who read your Holy Koran and those who instruct in it to recognise within it, its teaching on the sanctity of human life and respect for civilians. We look forward to the day when those who acknowledge your Son as Lord and Saviour and those who do not can talk with mutual respect and understanding and that through doing so those who follow the Prophet, (peace be upon him), might come to know Jesus better.

Show us your presence in those who differ from us until our knowledge of your love for us may be made perfect in our love for all your children.