When Northern Ireland’s First Minister waded into the row over the Islamophobic comments made by a hate preacher I thought he would have tried to calm the situation, writes journalist Yvonne Ridley.
Instead Peter Robinson chose to inflame the situation when instead of condemning the words of the firebrand cleric, he chose to defend him.
Now the DUP leader said comments he made in support of Pastor James McConnell’s remarks had been “misinterpreted.”
His weasel words are too little, too late … the genie is out of the bottle. We now know what he thinks of the industrious little Muslim community in his midst.
Pastor McConnell denounced Islam from the pulpit as “satanic” describing it as a “doctrine spawned in hell”.
That Mr Robinson chose to defend the evangelical firebrand speaks volumes in itself but now he is saying he did not “want to insult or cause distress to local Muslims.”
Really? Well what the hell were his intentions? Not content with the racist hole he’d already dug himself, the First Minister then jumped into it and continued to dig.
If he was a man of honour he would resign because he has certainly breached the rules of Stormont’s Code of Conduct as well as fanned the flames of racial hatred in Northern Ireland.
Now he is a desperate politician furiously trying to retreat from his initial utterances. These empty words followed 24 hours later which are frankly too little, too late. He said: “I would never seek to cause any insult to any section of our community. For the avoidance of any doubt I make it clear that I welcome the contribution made by all communities in Northern Ireland, and in the particular circumstances, the Muslim community.”
A slight change on his statement 24 hours earlier in which he said the poor old pastor had been demonised because of his remarks, and that there “isn’t an ounce of hatred in his bones”. And while he was defending the ranty cleric he said he didn’t trust Muslims.
He did concede that he would still trust them to “go down to the shops for me” or give him the right change.
Amazingly, after sticking a knife in the back of the Muslim community in Northern Ireland he then fawned around and licked the boots of the Turkish ambassador yesterday in the hope of promoting trade with the Muslim country.
It would have been rather pleasing to see the Ambassador verbally slap Robinson for his nasty diatribe but as a seasoned diplomat he was far too polite to get down to the First Minister’s grubby level.
At least Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had the decency to do the job instead by urging Robinson to show leadership and embrace religious diversity; the only shame was that he did it privately. I think we would have all enjoyed sharing in the private rebuke.
But even then instead of taking the criticism on the chin like a man, the First Minister dragged the dignity of his office into the playground of childish rhetoric by venting his displeasure on the social networks.
Using Twitter the unstately statesman said: “I won’t take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation on equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all.”
Well I wonder if he’ll take a lecture from me – a Muslim woman because I have a bit of advice for Robinson and here it is:
‘You crossed a line by defending a hate preacher who displayed all the traits and characteristics of someone who is deeply Islamaphobic. Targeting an entire community because of their Faith is the sort of politics which saw a rise of the Third Reich in 1930s Europe.
“I want you to substitute the word Muslim with Jew, Christian, Irish or Black and may be then you will begin to understand how hurtful were the pastor’s initial comments compounded within hours by your defence of the hate preacher.
“You have shown that you are hopelessly out of touch with the electorate and if you had one ounce of remorse you would resign. There is no room for the politics of the Far Right in Ireland, a country which is universally admired overseas for its hospitality.
“You are a disgrace to your office and your behaviour fell far short of what we expect of a First Minister, who should represent all citizens, regardless of race, Faith or culture.
“Never ask me to go and shop for you unless it’s for a bar of soap to wash out your mouth. Trust is a two way street and it will take a long time before Muslims can be expected to put their trust in you, Mr Robinson.”
I only hope those countries in the Muslim world which want to do business and trade with Northern Ireland can tell the difference between a hard-working, industrious people and a nasty, odious politician who is unfit for public office.