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The landscape of bigotry

photo credit: Istanbul via photopin (license)
photo credit: Istanbul via photopin (license)

Earlier this week, some time spent on Twitter helped me to understand the thought processes of those little Englanders and rampant Republicans who we bleeding heart liberals love to criticise.

The conversation happened in the wake of the most recent London stabbing. While knife crime happens regularly in our beloved capital city, this case struck a different chord. It was obvious from the words media used in reporting the incident. “Believed mental illness, but cannot rule out possibility of terrorist links”.

I predicted at this point that the knifeman must be brown and sure enough, he was. The assailant, who killed one and injured five, was soon revealed as a Norwegian of Somali heritage. If the guy had mental health issues and no political motive nor any link to Isis, then why mention terrorism at all?

The formula has become clearly defined:

White = likely mental health issues, brown = likely terrorist.

Certain people will deny the reality of this until they’re blue in the face. But there are too many clear-cut examples for their denial to be credible any longer. Indeed, the media is simply giving its audiences more of what they want. After all, terrorism sells newspapers, glues eyes to screens and garners clicks. That’s a sad feature of the times we live in.

So I found myself in the midst of a Twitter debate against a number of the above, flanked by a couple of supporters who were experts on counter-terrorism. One feature that stood out was the fixation on Islam as an inherently violent ideology. Islam is out to get us, according to these folks.

Islam is at the heart of all terrorist activity and only by destroying it can we retrieve and protect our previously ‘safe’, ‘tolerant’ and ‘free’ Western culture. They refused to listen to any arguments that might have spoiled this worldview, even those based in fact.

Soon they accused me of being religious and supporting Islam. This is far from the truth. Firstly, I’m agnostic, because I believe it makes more sense than atheism. Agnostic implies the ability to remain questioning and curious, while atheism suggests fixed ideas about things we have no way of really knowing. Plus, militant atheists can be just as challenging to deal with as religious fundamentalists.

Secondly, I have no particular sympathy for Islam as a creed. I’m not a great believer in organised religion, and I find the Abrahamic ones to be particularly patriarchal, rigid, exploitative and threatening.

“Follow what I say or burn in hell for all eternity”.
“Have blind faith or forever be an unbeliever”

You get the general gist.

To me that looks too much like an convenient system of social control. What’s more, I take particular issue with the Abrahamic view of women as being primarily baby producers existing to serve men. This view has caused a great deal of social injustice. Examples that spring to mind include the ongoing abortion ban in Ireland, utterly ridiculous in the present day!

Or countries where contraception is expensive or unavailable, forcing women to keep producing offspring irrespective of whether they can afford to take care of them. None of this is unique to Islam or the Qur’an. It exists in the Bible and the Torah, along with various interpretations of both Christianity and Judaism.

Back to the point in hand.

I choose to defend Islam and Muslims not because of religion but because I despair of the world holding misperceptions on such a grand scale. I don’t like demonisation. I’m naturally inclined to support the underdog. And what an underdog Muslims have become.

Perceptions are everything and when false ones are propagated they can have far-ranging damaging effects. They can shape history and drive people to do things they’d never otherwise do. With our intricately connected world this effect is now magnified more than ever before.

News travels faster. Debate happens all the time, much of it between strangers using fake names and hiding behind their screens. People are quick to speak, slower to listen and understand. The outcomes of these debates can form public perceptions of individuals and groups into images that persist for generations.

There’s one final irony that I think bears mention. The particular worldview of “the west against Islam” that these Islamophobes hold so dear, is exactly the same as that espoused by Isis.

By supporting this view, the phobic are acting as terrorist recruiting sergeants of the most effective kind. Who needs radicalisation in mosques when these repugnant views are out there on social media spread widely for all to see?

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