Is US Treatment of Muslims Creating Another Troubles?

With the passing of IRA leader and later Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this week, thoughts naturally turn to the man’s place in history. Should he be remembered as a statesman who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the Troubles? Or as a terrorist who, despite his protestations, is widely believed to have directed and participated in terrorist activities?

His status as a Catholic from the Bogside of Derry played a huge role in his decision to join the IRA. According to the Guardian, after attending technical college, McGuinness was turned down for a job as a mechanic because he was a Catholic. Three years later, in 1968, he joined the IRA after seeing bloody pictures of Gerry Fitt, the Catholic MP for Belfast West, after he was hit by police batons.

McGuinness’s radicalization didn’t turn on a single incident, I’d imagine, but occurred gradually over time as mistreatment piled atop mistreatment until he reached the breaking point.

Marginalizing a class of people

It got me to thinking about what I feel is America’s mean-spirited (not to mention clumsy and likely illegal) recent efforts to ban Muslims from traveling to the US. The latest is the odd ban on electronic devices larger than a cellphone in the cabins of flights originating from most Middle Eastern countries. (Side note: what about those dangerous lithium batteries in laptops in checked baggage? I’m more afraid of exploding lithium batteries than I am of terrorists.)

Maybe there is a compelling security reason, but does taking your shoes off at airport security and leaving your big tube of toothpaste at home make you feel any safer? Logic does not favor the government in these issues. But I digress.

Have you ever been treated unfairly for what you think was no good reason? How did it make you feel? Now take those feelings and multiply it by the 4.3 million Muslims in the US, many of them naturalized citizens, then add in the 178.3 million Muslims in the six countries affected by the travel ban.

Even if I was the straightest-laced Muslim imaginable, I’d be pissed off. Now imagine those already disadvantaged by lack of education or high unemployment where they live, and you begin to see how the seeds of dissent are sown by those who truly want to do harm to Westerners.

Let me be clear: we’re talking about an infinitesimal number of radical idiots in a vast sea of people, nearly all of whom share the same dreams of building a better life for themselves and their children as we do. Americans don’t hold a patent on this idea.

I consider myself a Christian, yet I’m truly appalled at many of the things allegedly done in the Lord’s name in the US and around the world. Conservative Christianity no more reflects my values than radical Islam reflects the values of all but a handful of Muslims.

Martin McGuinness was radicalized after being put down for his religion and seeing people just like him being cast to the sidelines of society time and time again.

But through personal growth and empathy, McGuinness risked his life to negotiate peace and later served admirably in the resulting power-sharing government with former enemies, including rabid unionist Ian Paisley. How will he be remembered? He will be seen both as a terrorist and as a diplomat, I’m sure.

Life must go on, regardless

How many future terrorists is the US risking through its heavy-handed efforts to keep us “safe,” while at the same time decimating the State Department budget that funds outreach to the world and beefing up what’s already the world’s largest military?

These efforts don’t make me feel safe. They just make me embarrassed for the country my family has been a part of since before the Revolutionary War.

Earlier this week, there was a terrorist attack in London. Declan and I are visiting there next weekend, attending a football match with 60,000 other people, visiting the Tower of London, Harrod’s and the British Museum, all top tourist attractions.

And the whole family will be in Antwerp next month, the scene of another incident just yesterday. Oh yeah, and we’ll be in Paris and Berlin on that trip, too.

Like it or not, we all are citizens of the world, and what the US does in the name of “security” has impacts that likely will ripple for years. On this matter, I take my cue from ‘80s pop star Joe Jackson and the title track of his 1986 album, “Big World.”

“It’s a big world – so much to do / And plenty of room for me and you”

About the photo: Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (left) and Martin McGuinness.

Muslims Are People, Too

Visit My Mosque day had already been scheduled for 150 mosques in the UK when Donald Trump announced the immigration ban on seven majority Muslim countries. If what we heard on Sunday while visiting the Belfast mosque held true in the other 149 locations, local residents and visitors like us turned out in record numbers.

We went to support the local mosque and Muslims in general, showing them that not all Americans hate them and their religion. Sure, certain Muslims want to do us harm. But so do people from all walks of life and religions, including people born and bred in the US. As a Christian, I feel it’s important to acknowledge and respect other religions—especially those unfairly under persecution.

Taking such broad strokes in the name of preventing terrorism only makes the world mad at us—it does nothing to make us safer. Do you really feel safe after you pass through airport security, or just dirty and degraded?

Leave your shoes at the door

The Belfast mosque is located along a residential street a few blocks from our flat. Upon entering, we removed our shoes just inside the front door (photo). Women on hand in the first room to our right plied us with tea, coffee and biscuits (it is the UK, after all). Then we went upstairs to the prayer room, where a mosque leader gave a 10-minute presentation about Islam, the Prophet Mohammed and the Quran, then took audience questions. A local man asked about how his son, who is dating a Muslim woman, could marry her. The response was that the man would have to convert.

I’m glad we visited, but I won’t be converting to Islam—ever. God issues aside, I could never practice a religion that subjugates women. My deceased mother, grandmothers and aunts would claw their way out of their graves and smack me upside my head—not to mention what Marilynn would do to me if I ever told her to shut the hell up and make me dinner.

As we were leaving, a nice Muslim man with a distinctive Belfast accent was coming toward the mosque and engaged us in conversation. We explained why we were there and talked a bit about the US political situation/attitude toward Muslims.

He said Trump’s executive order could be a blessing in disguise, because apparently the attendance at this event was up considerably over past years. At one point, he also said, “We are extremists. Extremely nice, extremely caring and extremely compassionate.”

And after talking with him and visiting the center, I couldn’t agree more.