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Sunday 11 February 2007

Head for integration while you still can

"WE'VE no problems with Muslims in Ireland," I've been told by some of my compatriots. "Ours are lovely. Not like yours in England."

Listen, guys, it's a bit more complicated than you think. We've got plenty of excellent, law-abiding Muslims here whose hard work and encouragement has allowed their children to flourish and become model citizens.

But while we've a big problem with militant Islamism, so have you.

It hasn't manifested itself violently so far, but you could yet be dealing with bombs on the Dart planted by the pernicious fringe of Islam: Islamist malcontents who hate democracy.

Don't kid yourselves. There are malign influences hard at work in several Islamic institutions in Ireland.

But Ireland is lucky. It's not too late to learn from the disastrous multicultural experiment in Britain that brought about a kind of religious and cultural apartheid. Now multiculturalism is out: social cohesion is in. The trouble is that in Britain we are scrabbling around for a method of getting from here to there.

Ireland, which has been on the path towards multiculturalism, just has time to change course towards integration.

There are some very important lessons to be learned from the British disaster.

First: have an open debate. Race relations were poisoned in Britain because debate was stifled: multiculturalism raged unchecked because even to question it was to appear racist.

The time is right: politicians like Pat Rabbitte, Seamus Brennan, Enda Kenny and Michael McDowell have opened up the immigration debate and the sky hasn't fallen in. Now they have to be brave enough to focus particularly on Islam. It is terrifying that 57 per cent of young Muslims want Ireland to become an Islamic state.

Second: ignore the well-meaning idiots who accidentally foment minority grievances and unwittingly accentuate differences.

Niall Crowley of the Equality Authority is centre-stage, but Philip Watt, director of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Inter-Culturalism, deserves an honourable mention. On Thursday night at UCD, opposing a motion that 'This house believes that Muslims are not integrating enough into Irish society', Watt managed to ignore the Islamist terrorist threat and banged on about the importance of Ireland accommodating itself to Islam.

He is exactly the kind of person described at a recent conference in Dublin by Marilyn Haime, the Dutch director of integration policy. Holland stored up enormous problems for itself, she said, because political correctness had demanded that her country accommodate the religious and cultural diversity of immigrants, while making no such demands on the immigrants themselves.

Third: talk to the moderates, not the militants: another disaster in Britain was that local and national government and NGOs listened to the grievance-mongers, and the moderates despaired.

Forget the Muslim Brotherhood groupies in Clonskea Mosque, European HQ of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is happy with suicide bombers, the execution of gays and female circumcision.

Ireland is blessed with an Islamic group dedicated to integrating Muslims into Irish society: talk to Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland (SMC), which is small, but growing steadily, and is an intellectual and moral beacon to moderate Irish Muslims. Only this week it issued a 10-point proposal to stop extremism taking hold, which is driving the militants mad because it suggests "publicly naming and shaming imams and other religious leaders who advocate religious intolerance and the subjugation of women".

Among the SMC's proposals are to educate all children to have a zero-tolerance policy towards violence and intolerance; to scrutinise the curricula in faith-based schools to ensure they contain no hateful, misogynistic, homophobic or extremist material; and to encourage Muslims to become involved in social and sports clubs as well as long-established local charities like St Vincent de Paul and Concern.

South-African born Dr Shaheed Satardien, Chairman of the SMC, and the Saudi-Arabian-born Secretary-General, Mohammed Alkabour, spoke for the motion at the debate in UCD.

Both stressed their firm commitment to the Irish constitution (as citizens) and to the Koran, as a moral guide. They both love what Alkabour calls "this great little nation".

Here's an idea. A week or so ago, in a letter to the Irish Times, Alkabour said: "The Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland would like to say that it believes that the rule of civil law, the democratic system of representation in government, the protection of the rights of women and minorities and the freedom of thought and belief - under all of which we live here in Ireland - are not only compatible with Islamic values but are closer to the ethos and spirit of tolerance, pluralism and peace in Islam and better serve the Irish Muslim community than the undemocratic regimes and the draconian judicial systems found in some predominately Muslim countries today."

It would certainly get a lively debate going if all other Irish Islamic organisations were asked it they'd sign up to that. Pat, Seamus, Enda and Michael: how about it?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards