When Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, defended Pastor McConnell’s controversial remarks about Islam, and then went on to kindly add that he would trust Muslims to go to the shops for him, this led to Alliance Party MLA Anna Lo giving a very just and emotional interview, which for me highlighted perfectly the very real impact that racism has on people’s lives.
The comments by Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson then led to two large anti-racism protests on the streets of Belfast.
Clearly, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to realise that tarring a whole religious group in one single swipe nurtures deep residing intolerance at a frightening speed, creating the space for prejudices to rise to the surface of society – especially given that the context to such remarks has already been an increase in racist attacks.
Although if I can say Peter Robinson and Pastor McConnell got it wrong, so too did some of the supposedly ‘moral’ protestors.
Two anti-racism protests were quite rightly organised as a show of solidarity and to show opposition against the rise of intolerance and the surfacing of prejudices that have led to serious attacks on ethnic minorities. It would be crazy though to try to say that the protests weren’t also organised as a result of Peter Robinson’s comments.
The reality is that Peter Robinson’s comments were out of order, inflammatory and could be seen to encourage distrust and anger, as well as a fear towards ethnic minorities and Muslims.
What completely boggled my mind though was that some protestors who were supposedly out on an anti-racism protest seemed more keen to turn it into an anti-Peter Robinson protest.
There were plenty of placards slating Peter Robinson as well as an ‘I’m shopping for Peter’ flash mob.
I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t highlight and protest against prejudices, and I’m most certainly not a Peter Robinson apologist, but how can you claim the moral high ground, and protest against someone’s comments that could inspire hatred and anger towards ethnic minorities, but then proceed to channel your anger towards one particular person. By doing this you create an atmosphere where people think; actually, because I disagree with what Peter Robinson said, I’m justified in targeting him.
This is exactly what Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson were doing when they made their remarks about Islam, they felt that it was okay to make such remarks because they disagreed essentially with the Islamic doctrine. This is also exactly what protestors were doing when they directed their anger towards Peter Robinson, they felt that they were justified in doing so because they disagreed with him.
When you channel your anger against one particular person, as was the case with those who channelled their anger towards Peter Robinson, you become the very repulsive thing that you are protesting against. How can you protest against intolerance by showing that you also have a tolerance deficiency?
Not only do you lose the moral authority as to what you are protesting against, you miss the point that actually, racism goes so much further and deeper than just Peter Robinson.
Surely both types of anger are one and the same, but it just depends what side of the fence you are on as to what actions and comments you deem acceptable?