As I write this ahead of the pending arrival of 11 Syrian families in Northern Ireland on December 15, it’s after the Parades Commission shamefully permitted a group called the ‘Protestant Coalition’ to organise an Islamophobic anti-refugee march in Belfast city centre.
The racist march took place on Saturday 5 December with the participation of loyalist killer Glen Kane, who was involved in beating to death of a Catholic in 1992. According to the media, about 25 people took part in the march, half the number quoted by the march organiser, loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer. However, they were outnumbered by about 200 counter-protesters.
On that same day, four neo-Nazis with their faces covered posed outside Belfast City Hall giving the Nazi salute and stating that refugees are not welcome. The group called themselves ‘Waffen SS West Belfast Shankill Skinheads’ after the Waffen SS, the military wing of the German Nazi Party formed upon Hitler’s instructions. The Shankill area is a small protestant enclave with strong loyalist paramilitaries influence in the largely nationalist west Belfast.
What’s interesting about this is that despite their ambitious titles, everyone knows these far-right extremists do not represent the views of all Northern Irish Protestants, or for that matter of white people in general. While outgoing DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson condemned the anti-refugee march, no one expects every resident of the Shankill or every Protestant or white person to condemn these racist groups, and I don’t think they need to do so.
However, try to think about it by applying the same principles to Muslims. They are always under pressure to condemn anything wrong done or said by a minority of Muslims. They all get tarnished by the same brush, while you will be lucky if racism and violence perpetrated by white supremacists make it to the local media, never mind the national or international news. Surely you will never hear anyone blaming Christians for what Hitler, Franco or the Lord’s Resistance Army did.
Still, I think that while the vast majority of Muslims do not agree with or support extremism, they still need to make that heard, especially with strong and vocal anti-Muslim voices in the mainstream media and even at the heart of the establishment – voices that are silent when it comes to any other type of extremism. This is why many westerners would expect Muslims to apologise and condemn a minority of extremists though most do not feel the need when it comes to, say, racism and colonialism. Many people changed their profile pictures on Facebook with a French flag after the tragic terror attacks in Paris, but none of that happens when the same terror groups and dictators’ forces inflict the same suffering in places like Syria and Iraq and northern Nigeria almost every day.
In fact, racist newspapers tried to represent the opposite, The Sun specifically by way of a poll that asked its readers about people leaving the UK to join ‘Syrian fighters’ – making no distinction between those joining the ranks of IS, and the many more taking up arms against those terrorists. Considering that Westminster voted in favour of expanding the aerial bombardment of the Middle East to include Syria, we should expect more of the same old anti-Islam propaganda to make bombing Muslim countries more acceptable. The same propaganda represented by hatemongering marches. It leaves Muslims frustrated that it’s always up to us to have to explain everything. I’m afraid that will be the case for a while.
Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast