AS the crisis over the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad escalated last week, one of Ireland's imams attacked the media for "hostile" coverage of Islam. In Monday's Irish Times, Sheikh Yahya Al Hussein said that since the 7/7 bombings "some Muslims have been singled out" for "exaggerated" attention by Irish journalists.
I presume Sheikh Yahya was thinking of people like me when he made that claim. That is because I was one of the first journalists in this country to call on Irish Muslims to fully integrate. And although I have never insulted Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, I was still threatened by dangerous elements within the Muslim community.
But what the Danish cartoon incident proves is that nothing I have said about radical Islam in Ireland is "exaggerated". For even though we have not seen demonstrations on our streets, there are nevertheless serious links between Irish extremists and those currently stirring up the global frenzy.
Take, for example, the so-called 'Sheikh of death', Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Last year, I reported that Qaradawi, who is banned from the US, visited Ireland on three occasions since 2000. He was here as president of the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a body that is permanently headquartered at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh.
Qaradawi is arguably the most influential Islamic scholar alive. He has called for suicide operations against military and civilian targets in Iraq and Israel, has praised child-martyrs, and has instructed that homosexuals should be burned or stoned to keep Islamic society "clean of perverted elements".
Last week, European intelligence and security services confirmed that they believe Qaradawi is masterminding and manipulating the Muslim rage over the cartoons. They say he is doing so through the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he is a founding member, and through the International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS). The IAMS, over which Qaradawi presides, is also permanently based in Ireland.
This means that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who last week called for "a global day of anger" over the cartoons and demanded the boycott of Danish products, is president of two organisations in Dublin. Is it any wonder, as I recently confirmed in this newspaper, that Ireland has become the European base for the Muslim Brotherhood? According to one senior Muslim here: "Qaradawi has made Ireland into a centre of Islamic extremism."
Moderate Muslims I spoke to about the cartoon crisis found the caricatures offensive and insensitive. But like their European counterparts, they also believe the situation was hijacked by fanatics since the cartoons were first published last September.
There was "nothing coincidental about this," said one individual, adding that the cartoons "gave people like Qaradawi the opportunity for their long-awaited showdown with the West".
That showdown has now taken an ugly turn. Last Monday, a high-profile terror group called The Islamic Army in Iraq issued the following statement: "We swear to God, if we catch a Danish citizen in Iraq, we will cut him to pieces."
And guess who the leader of that group which has murdered its way through Baghdad is? He is an Irish citizen of Libyan extraction who operates out of Dublin.
In short, Ireland has become a hub for global terror networks to function freely. And we find ourselves in this situation because of our non-existent integration policies, a foolish addiction to multiculturalism, and our refusal to heed persistent warnings from the moderate Muslim community.
Unlike the extremists, Ireland's moderate Muslims do not want to impose sharia law on this country. Neither do they want us to sacrifice our identity for some unobtainable multicultural utopia.
For them, Irish democracy and Islamic values can work compatibly. But like me, they think the cartoon fiasco shows why there must be firm integration measures for all Irish Muslims.
In the words of one source: "We can no longer accept a situation where certain voices in the community regularly call on Muslims to drive the Irish into the sea. We must also demand they stop firing up our youth by denouncing Jews, Christians and Irish infidels."
That means Ireland now faces a crunch decision. Will we begin deporting extremists using this country as a base? Shut down their networks? Listen to moderate Muslim leaders on how to properly integrate Islamic immigrants? Or will we continue pretending that just because Irish Muslims aren't burning Danish flags on our streets, everything is fine?
Last week, Michael McDowell said the "vast majority" of Muslims in Ireland "are reasonable and intelligent people who value the Constitutional values of our society". So they are. But unless we stop accommodating the Islamic community's fanatical minority, those Constitutional values will remain in peril. And that is no exaggeration.