Tenuous tolerance of Muslims in Ireland?
2018-02-15 16:30:00 -


Mohammed Samaana

The random stabbing incidents in Dundalk on 9 January, in which a Japanese national was killed and two Irishmen were injured, are sad and tragic. The initial reaction to these incidents by the Garda and the media, however, was irresponsible and irrational. Obviously I’m not talking about the initial confusion surrounding the suspect’s nationality. I’m talking about how fast the police jumped to conclusions about the motivation behind the attacks.


I read with disbelief a newspaper quoting a security source saying: “It has the hallmarks of [a terror attack] … you have a lone actor, using low-tech weapons, a young man, that part of the world…” Surely there are many potential murderers who are young, who act alone using basic weapons. But because this particular one was from a certain part of the world, that made it a possible terror attack — when actually it wasn’t.


That statement does not give much confidence in the security services. Do they investigate all crimes with speculation based on prejudice and racial stereotypes without consideration to the consequences? In this case, the result was a wave of Islamophobia in mainstream and social media. You would think that considering the way the Irish were treated in Britain during the Troubles, lessons would have been learnt and that not everyone can be tarnished with the same brush? Apparently not.


While generally the Irish are tolerant, having mostly trouble-free relations with the Muslim community, now and then things happen that put Muslims living in Ireland on edge. Besides undermining our contribution to Irish society, such unnecessary negative publicity increases our sense of insecurity and alienation. Additionally, and it might not be always the case, but it gives the impression that the general attitude towards Muslims is that we are guilty until proven innocent, especially after sensational media coverage which gifted the far right with free PR.


The suspect, it turned out, is a migrant previously refused asylum in the UK. From my personal encounters with asylum seekers, they take a lot of risks to make it to Europe, leaving family and friends behind. Sometimes they sacrifice all their life savings to make the hazardous journey. If their asylum applications are refused, they lose their hope for a better life. 


One told me she was left without money and shelter, and denied the right to work. Another has been in the system for more than 13 years. Yet with all the problems in the UK system, she prefers it over other European countries, including Ireland where she had to live in direct provision and faced many restrictions on her mobility. In the UK she has more freedom, including the freedom to prepare her own meals.


With shattered hopes, such people feel they have no future, and become vulnerable. While this is not an excuse to commit crimes, and the teen allegedly responsible for the Dundalk attacks should face the full weight of the law, it stresses the need to review the failing asylum systems in both the UK and Ireland.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.



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