Fight against the right is far from over
2019-06-01 15:23:23 -
Opinion
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By Mohammed Samaan

 

I wrote previously about the racist candidate Jolene Bunting in the latest council election in the North. The voters did not disappoint and she lost the seat she had held in Belfast City Council. Not only that, but anti-racism and progressive parties increased their seats and gained ground in new territories. It is a great result considering recent election results in other European countries where the far right is on the rise.

 

By no means, however, this means that the fight against racism is won. Maybe at political level, the far right got defeated and will struggle to have elected representatives any time soon. But the fact that they managed to have any platform at all — something that did not use to happen before — is worrying. That’s especially so when history teaches us that they start small and maintain their presence, awaiting an opportunity to make political gains, then they start to influence policies to implement their programmes.

 

Beyond political racism, prejudice and stereotypes remain an issue which can lead to socioeconomic exclusion, discrimination, segregation and possibly to the rise of the far right. During a recent and what I thought normal conversation, the issue of women’s status in Muslim countries came up, and a lot of prejudice came out. Personally, I prefer if people talk about any pre-conceptions they have so that they can be presented with the facts using rational argument.

 

The issue that Muslim women are treated as second-class citizens came up, and not allowing them to drive cars was given as an example.

 

My answer to that consisted of two parts. The first was that no where it says in the Quran or the Hadeeth that women are not allowed to drive, and the ban itself (which no longer exists) was a distortion of the teachings of Islam. Additionally, prohibitions in Islam apply to both men and women, such as the ban on drinking alcohol and eating pork.

 

The second part of my answer was that there is a danger of treating the entire Muslim world, with its different countries and cultures, as if it were all the same. Banning women from driving cars existed only in the Saudi kingdom, which is but a fraction of the world Muslim population. What happens in one Muslim country does not apply to the rest of the Muslim world, in the same way that Trump does not represent the entire western world.

 

Furthermore, in Muslim countries you can find women taking senior positions such as mayors, government ministers and even as heads of state, such as in Bangladesh and Singapore. Yet it is the negative stories that make the headlines, not the positive ones.

 

The main issue, however, is that any prejudice or stereotype about any ethnic or faith group will result in members of that group being at disadvantage and treated less favourably. They are also more likely to be discriminated against at different levels as they are seen as less civilised with backward traditions, without examining the facts and without thinking that being different does not mean being inferior.

 

That being said, it is that sort of prejudice which carries the risk of being transformed from socioeconomic racism into political racism, when ordinary people are misled to believe that their neighbours or colleagues are a threat to their community values and culture.

 

Even when the far right is in retreat, it is important that we do not take our eyes off the ball and we continue to challenge racism before it even raises its head.

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Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

TAGS : politics racism prejudice
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