Opinion: Racists trot out the same old lines
2015-10-15 13:49:21 -
Human Rights

Mohammed Samaana


Since the UK government announced Britain will take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, of whom about 2,000 might come to Northern Ireland according to local politicians, racist bigots have been trotting out the same old lines.


Not surprisingly, the BBC was there to provide a platform to the extremists. Henry Reilly, from Kilkeel in Co Down and a councillor with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, was on BBC One NI’s Nolan Live on Wednesday 30 September claiming that there will be Islamic terrorists among the refugees coming from Syria, and that there will be rapists who will target local women. Reilly was chairman of Ukip’s Northern Ireland regional branch. He resigned from this position in August of this year and was suspended by the party about two weeks before previous racist comments on TV on an unrelated matter.


It is a worrying enough development that Ukip managed to have elected representatives in Northern Ireland. But the fact that we have politicians who are openly racist and express their views on TV is even more disturbing. This is something that was unheard of only a few years ago but it seems to be that since former first minister Peter Robinson made similar racist comments about Muslims last year – he had to apologise under pressure – more right-wing politicians seem to feel comfortable to express such views.


Still, one good thing about what Reilly said is that racists, and the media outlets that support their views, can’t come up with anything new and keep regurgitating the same old myths about immigrants and refugees. The reality is that terrorists travel from the west in order to join IS in Syria, not the other way round. What’s more, IS itself wouldn’t have existed if not for the US interventions that resulted in the creation of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, of which IS is a split-off group.


The other point he made about rape has been used a lot by racist individuals and organisations, but not enough has been done to challenge it. For Northern Ireland, it is simple: we have never heard of even a single rape committed by a Muslim. In fact when it comes to the issue of faith and sexual assault, the church and its clergymen have a lot more to answer for. More and more victims are coming forward to tell their stories of abuse at the hands of politicians in Westminster, too.


At the same time, though, this situation shows that the decision to take Syrian refugees – supported across the board by nationalist and unionist politicians, with the notable exception of the TUV’s Jim Allister – should have been accompanied with a comprehensive plan to combat racism and prejudice, in order to help their integration in society and allow them to live as normal a life as possible. 


An important part of such a plan is putting more pressure on the media to stop dealing with racism as another point of view that deserves to be heard for the sake of ‘balance’. Rather, there should be a media campaign to welcome refugees and highlight their contributions to society.


One important point to remember when dealing with Syrians and any other group is that we should treat them equally and with respect, regardless of the faith or sect they belong to. It is also important to remember that Syrians, just like us, are by-and-large well educated people who have a rich history, whose culture contributed significantly to human civilisation, and they should not be treated as inferior people who will only meet civilisation when they come to the west.



Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

TAGS : Syria Syrian Refugees Northern Ireland Ukip Peter Robinson Racists
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