Recently I came across Islamophobia on Facebook. Not for the first time; ever since 9/11 and 7/7 it’s been everywhere. But this time it was in a discussion under someone’s status update. It was expressed by friends, and for that reason I wish I could be diplomatic, in case they may be reading it. But it was distressing reading, and in a way I found it more disturbing because it was expressed by friends – not close ones, but friends. They are nice people.
The discussion was in reaction to an incident in
The comments in the discussion came from friends who have loved ones in the armed forces, and who understandably have strong views and feelings on the issue. In fact, I could see and sympathise with both sides. But the actual comments themselves were unpleasant and disturbing. And the comments of other people in the thread were even worse – along the lines of ‘shoot them all’. One said that the offenders should be sent back to wherever they came from, and if they were born in
In response to my attempt to introduce more reason and less emotion to the discussion, my friends urged me not to forget 9/11 and 7/7, and argued that our forces wouldn’t be in ‘their countries’ if they didn’t keep blowing themselves up. I agree that 9/11 was a terrible crime, but the suicide bombers and fighters in
In fact, it was hard to tell in this discussion, whether the participants were referring to the Taliban, the 7/7 bombers, the poppy-burners or just Muslims generally. With regard to the ‘peaceful Muslims’, they ‘only had their own to thank’. But who are ‘their own’? The important distinction is between people who commit acts of terrorism and those who don’t; the 7/7 bombers had more in common with pilots who bomb Afghan villages than they did with the vast majority of Muslims. The language suggests a dangerous generalisation and stereotyping of people as a group – and a group, moreover, of a billion people. And it suggests a further confusion. Did some of the commenters want just the poppy-burners out of the
It’s possible that I’m assuming too much here. But what certainly was apparent was a perception of Muslims as ‘other’. They all come from ‘somewhere else’, somewhere outside the
Taking part in this discussion thread was distressing for me because some of the participants were friends. It was difficult to hear such disturbing views uttered by friends, who I know to be good people, living quiet lives and doing harm to no one. It’s a worrying thought, really. If ordinary, decent people are capable of stereotyping and generalising a cultural or religious group in such negative ways, then it’s not just the EDL and the British Nazi Party we have to worry about. And history shows us this. Hitler probably couldn’t have committed the worst atrocities of Nazism – or at least, not so easily – had it not been for the prejudices of ordinary, decent Germans that were just waiting to be exploited. He manipulated his own people through clever use of the media; and this too we can see today, if in a more subtle and gradual fashion. No country is immune from racism and fascism. There are so many parallels between Islamophobia and 1930s anti-Semitism, that we have good reason to be worried.
And there’s another aspect. If ordinary, decent Brits are capable of such confused prejudices, what about their relatives in the armed forces, who are trained to kill the enemy? If they too have the same conscious or unconscious generalisations about who the enemy is (are they only people with guns and bombs, or are they Muslims generally?), then it’s no wonder that massacres happen, that killing is sometimes indiscriminate, that civilians are inadequately protected and sometimes actually targeted. I’m not accusing my friends’ kids of committing war crimes. But why do war crimes happen? And it may be that I’ve read too much into the whole discussion, and that the participants’ prejudices only referred to the poppy-burners, or actual terrorists. But if that’s the case, then why do they so fervently support the actions of the military, who have - far too often for it to be an occasional fluke tragedy - reduced men, women and children to ashes and scattered body parts?
I am, thankfully, still friends with my friends – I hope. But the episode left a nasty taste in my mouth. How many people in this country agree with them? If it’s a large proportion, then the potential for understanding and bridge-building between communities, and for recognising what unites us rather than what separates us, doesn’t look very hopeful.