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Sunday 21 September 2014

The Muslim-Irish prove to be a surprisingly moderate bunch . . .

Published 19/12/2006 | 00:11

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MOOSAJEE Bhamjee was raised shoulder-high the night he became Ireland's first Muslim TD. Back in 1992, the man from Clare's victory seemed like a beacon marking Ireland's entry to a world of cultural diversity.

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Was it all so simple? World events such as 9/11 and vicious rows such as the outcry after a Danish newspaper published cartoons offensive to some Muslims encouraged others to pause.

Over a decade later, the idea of cultural diversity is more real, complex and challenging than many might have thought.

The good news of the Irish Independent/Prime Time poll among Muslims in Ireland is that a large majority feel integrated with the wider community and generally accepted here.

They respect Irish democracy and admire its public figures, such as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President Mary McAleese.

However, more than one-third think that Irish morals are poor and do not support freedom of speech that offends religious beliefs. Among younger people, one-third would like to see the extreme religious law of Sharia imposed in Ireland, although half the respondents overall don't think Ireland should be run as an Islamic state.

These contradictory views suggest that there are pronounced differences within the Muslim-Irish community about what it means to be Irish and Muslim. Many views support the State's core values but some are directly opposed to beliefs it holds dear.

The poll is the first time Muslims in Ireland have been asked what they think about living and working here.

It comes soon after Muslim-Irish people were told they were "in denial" about the dangers in their midst.

Dr Shaheed Satardien, a South African-born Muslim living in Ireland, said the country could become "a haven of fundamentalism" for dissident Muslims wishing the West no good. While Muslim-Irish people dissociated themselves from his words, just over one-fifthof those surveyed thinkIreland could harbourdissidents.

Roughly the same number believe that violence is sometimes justified to achieve political ends.

World events have shown the dangers of promoting a "happy ever after" policy of cultural integration. Strong beliefs foster strong disagreements and the question of how people share a state on that basis has provoked difficult debates throughout Europe.

Some Irish people may be more open to understanding how moderate Muslims feel about being automatically linked to extremists, remembering how it was to be Irish living in Britain during the IRA campaigns, or the times when Irish people had to undergo a special protocol at British customs.

This may encourage closer co-operation in the short term while Ireland starts negotiating the delicate balance between being a citizen and being amember of a faith-based community.

But if a conflict arises on core values, does a citizen give loyalty to faith or state first? This is one of the questions currently pre-occupying policymakers in Britain and in the US, where citizens who were also Muslim behaved differently in the two countries after 9/11 and the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

US Muslims were very unlikely to become involved with extremist groups, whereas in Britain, younger Muslims were drawn to extremism in greater numbers, with a minority actively supporting Al-Qa'ida and associated groups.

In Britain and in western Europe generally, people are more likely to be unemployed if they are Muslim than if they are of other faiths or none.

This overt disadvantage is one of the factors thought to encourage younger Muslims, especially men and boys, to identify with more fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of Islam than their parents do.

And ordering Muslims to behave according to what the State decides can backfire, as rows over wearing the hijab or veil in France demonstrate. Respondents in Ireland overwhelmingly think the State should not interfere with this practice.

Which is the wise way forward? The recently-formed Council of Imams will participate along with better-known faith communities such as Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in the Government's new forum.

But immovable facts such as the common travel area with Britain, which is still at war, mean that Muslim-Irish are already under greatersurveillance by the State than are other faithcommunities.

The survey shows that while Muslim-Irish people are like other citizens in favouring a quiet life like, there may be some delicate sticking points ahead.

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