Our Position of Privilege

From my recent blog posts you may be forgiven for thinking that I have some agenda when it comes to the question of Islam. In truth I know next to nothing about the religion of my Muslim neighbours and friends, except for what I have picked from a handful of inter-faith conferences and a single semester of World Religions in university. I am no expert in Islamic studies and nor will I pretend to be. By faith I am a Christian; I profess the belief in a single God in three unconfused yet indivisible Persons. I say my prayers and, as best I can, live a life directed by the Christian principles that have been handed down to me. Culturally I am a Scot living in Ireland; Caucasian with brown hair and blue eyes, singularly Anglophone with some Spanish and learning Gaelic for political reasons. Over the years I have met and become friends with people of many faiths including Muslims – religious and not-so-religious. What I think I have gained from these experiences is a sense of respect for the people I have met and the differences between us.

By an accident of birth I have found myself in a position of great privilege. In no sense can I say that I am wealthy or that I have come from a rich family. Quite the contrary, but I was born white, into a culturally Christian family, and in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. This makes me quite privileged with regard to my seven billion sisters and brothers on this earth. From this ivory tower we in the developed West make some staggering assumptions about other people and cultures, and recently we have seen this machinery at work with regards to Islam – the religion and culture of almost one quarter of the world’s population.


We write Islam off as a primitive, backward and false religion of violence (at least the popular media does) because of a perceived clash between our two civilisations. Academics, politicians, and media figures cherry-pick passages from the Qur’an, and the words and actions of an extreme minority of Muslims to prove the barbarism and anti-intellectualism of this religion whilst extolling the moral and ethical superiority of Judeo-Christian Western culture. Yet we do this in wilful ignorance of Jewish and Christian tradition, and the recorded history (even present events) of the West. Within the Hebrew Bible, the deuterocanonical texts and the Christian scriptures are to be found all the textual ingredients of religions of anti-intellectual barbarism and violence.

Few Christians or Jews (one would hope) see themselves as the worshippers of a warrior god, and they do not consider themselves to be violent people – no matter the violence of their societies. It seems more reasonable therefore to seek the view of Islam as it is presented by Muslims. In our continued desire to see Islam through biased eyes we do great violence to Muslims and to ourselves, and we are closing the door to what has been in the past an inter-relation of faiths and cultures which has benefited our civilisations immensely.

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