Monday 21 January 2019

Ian O'Doherty: So have I changed my mind after spending a week with Muslims?

Stubbornness can be a terrible thing. As, indeed, can be arrogance, hubris, indifference and being head strong.

But, looking back, it was stubbornness that I was most guilty of.

And to what am I referring?

Well, if the correspondence I have been receiving from readers since last week is anything to go by, then many of you will know what I am talking about -- the RTE documentary, Now It's Personal.

It featured yours truly living with Muslims for a week -- an immersive project that, frankly, I wish I had never signed up for.

So, why did I do it?

Well, as I said, your honour, it was the stubbornness what made me do it.

In the usual lengthy time frame of television production, I was approached about a year ago to present a documentary for RTE on Muslims.

And immediately everyone I knew started to shout and tell me to stay the Hell away from a project that would only cause hassle for everyone concerned.

But, how many times have people telling you not to do something simply made you more determined to do it?

My boss was against the idea, saying that it could make the paper look bad. My wife was against it on the grounds that enough people dislike me as it is and she didn't see the point of enlarging that group.

My brother and sister were completely against it on the grounds that they would, all things being equal, prefer not to see me killed by some crazed jihadist who was pissed off by what I said on screen.

My friends simply saw it as an opportunity for the notoriously liberal and PC RTE to stitch-up the right-wing columnist (for the record, I'm a Libertarian rather than simply right-wing, but that seems to be a concept that remains alien in Ireland).

So, as you can see, these were all valid and relevant and entirely logical arguments against doing the thing ... which made the whole prospect all the more irresistible.

There's a certain contrarianism that many of us have; a reluctance to do what we're told and a resentment against authority figures who hold sway over you.

My parents used to joke that the first word I said as a baby was "no" while the second one was "why" and they may have had a point.

And that's how I came to find myself sitting in a mosque on Talbot Street, the head hanging off me from a particularly bad case of man-flu, sweating, shivering and seriously wondering what sort of strange and terrible mental condition had brought me to this stage. I mean, what sort of person volunteers to sleep on the floor of a mosque amongst strangers who only know you as an Islamaphobe and an enemy of their faith?

Well, perhaps that hostility was the main reason why I chose to go along with the whole thing.

After all, my rule of thumb is that I won't write anything about a person or a group that I wouldn't say to their face.

It's a perfectly simple philosophy as far as I'm concerned and regular readers will know that I am a perfectly simple man, but it is also about fairness.

You can have all the strong opinions you want but there are far too many journalists in this country who will hide behind their keyboard and refuse to confront the objects of their ire.

After all, I've said some pretty harsh stuff about Islam and Muslims.

And I stand over all of it.

Yes, I believe that Islam is the greatest threat to Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Yes, I believe that there are many Islamic beliefs that are completely incompatible with our values and, yes, I think halal butchering should be banned in all civilised countries.

But does that mean I personally hate someone I've never met simply because they are Muslim?

Nope, of course not. That would be both irrational and intellectually lazy, and that was one of the main motivating factors to do the show -- to meet the average Muslim Joe and thrash things out with him, to learn a bit about him and hopefully, to see him learn a bit about someone from a society so many Muslims seem to despise.

And did that happen? Well, I suppose, to an extent, it did.

The decent ones I met were quick to condemn radicals -- and I came away with a better distinction between the ordinary Muslim and the ones who want to establish a world Caliphate.

On the other hand, I was afforded the opportunity to express the resentment, nay the fury, that many of us in the West feel towards so called 'moderate' Muslims who refuse to condemn Muslim atrocities and try to make excuses for those who commit them.

Indeed, I was astonished to talk to one Irish convert to the faith who proudly declared that if she knew in advance of a terror attack she wouldn't alert the authorities because: "I could never betray a brother."

So, what did I take away from what was a strange, discombobulating, interesting and alternately tedious week?

Well, probably the main thing I learned is to stay away from a) TV crews and also, steer well clear of the internet and the blogosphere, where anonymous cowards hide behind a nickname and spew venomous bile (if I ever see the guy who said on one online forum that he was really happy my parents are dead I swear to Christ I'll do time).

Irish Independent

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