After a week when you could have been forgiven for thinking Northern Ireland was going to hell in a handbasket, a community worker in a Loyalist area posted this rant about Muslims on Facebook:
This is message is for all my friends. I am sick of hearing about Muslims this Muslims that, They are all not bad there is moderate Muslims just like Loyalist and Republicans. My daughter married a Muslim from Egypt and went down to stay with his family for a month in Alexandria and was treated like a lady amongst Muslims. As most people know I am from a loyalist background which I am proud of and I work with all sections of the community regards religion and colour. I am sick of hearing all Muslims tarred with the same brush as my daughter was treated with the upmost respect in the middle of a Muslim country. If any of my friends don’t like what I have put on then just delete me of your friends list.
It struck me there is more wisdom and courage in that statement than most of what we heard from our religious and political leaders in response to the events of the past week.
Just to put it in context a little, this was said by a man who if he looked at you the wrong way on the bus, you’d probably get off at the next stop (I hope he forgives me for saying that).
The Muslim community in Northern Ireland needs to know that there are people here who have their backs. Some of us do trust you. Some are even willing to lose friends over you.
I contacted the author of these comments and I asked him if I could share them in this blog post (with names removed). He agreed and added a little more about something else that happened last weekend. He said:
…took son-in-law to baptist church in [town] with me this morning wot a reception he got he thinks northern ireland people are brilliant and so friendly as my daughter had told him about all the negative stuff that was going on…..told everyone he was a muslim not 1 person was negative towards the lad.
There are different types of prejudices of course, and it’s a brave person who claims to be above it all. Maybe it’s Muslims, maybe it’s Christians, maybe it’s Loyalists, maybe it’s Republicans. Whatever it is, all it takes is the right set of circumstances and our lofty ideals are toast.
Racism runs deep. It’s not just about how we treat people. It’s how we talk about people. It’s how we think about people. It’s how we feel about people.
Some people claim racism is a working class problem (it’s all those poor folk who are the racist ones, right?) but just watch how quickly things kick off in Cherry Valley if a group of travelers were to move in at the bottom of the road.
The good news is that racism is not natural. Racism is learned and it can be unlearned.
Thank you to the good people of Alexandria, Egypt, for teaching a Loyalist community worker that not all Muslims are bad. And thank you to the same community worker for teaching the rest of us.