As a religious Christian I was touched and deeply saddened listening to a young Dublin woman, Amina Moustafa, recount her experiences of Islamophobia at the hands of a nun in her school. After her sister Iesha was prohibited from wearing her hijab in the same secondary school she was barred from praying in the prayer room by a religious sister on the grounds that she would be “un-supervised.” She told of how she conspired with the janitor in order to pray in the space. Her faith and courage was truly inspiring. As she spoke I felt a profound sense of shame at the behaviour of my Christian sister and recalled some of the thoughtless and sometimes vindictive things I have heard other Christians say about our Muslim neighbours. Not always have I shown the faith and courage of Amina and Iesha in the face of Christian anti-Muslim words and actions.

Both young women addressed the Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism in Ireland conference in Dublin today. They spoke along with others; authors, academics, activists, and community workers including Arun Kundnani, Lucy Michael, James Carr, and Michael Privot in a forum that opened up the reality anti-Muslim racism, anti-Islamic bigotry, and Islamophobia in our country. On purely human and moral grounds our lamps must always be burning when it comes to racism, but our particular global political realities in light of a highly ideological and politicised – and fictive – “War on Terror” obliges us as responsible citizens to be on our guard in the case of Islamophobia.

It is real, and as Lucy Michael hammered home in her presentation on the nature of anti-Muslim racism here in Ireland is changing, and it is changing in response to the continually evolving narrative of the War on Terror. Muslim people in the West, as a result of politically opportunistic and security industry rhetoric, have been denuded of their rightful sense of safety and so exposed to the blatantly racist agenda of the media. On the street and in their homes Muslims have found themselves the targets of racist taunts and racially motivated violence of people – their own neighbours often – who have been encouraged by the prevailing winds of politics and media in a climate of increasingly permissible, often pragmatic, and specifically anti-Muslim racism.

It is perfectly legitimate to draw analogies with this disturbing reality and the worsening treatment of Jews through the 1930s in Germany. Hate crime and hate speech, though not common, have long been a feature of the New Ireland, and Muslims have found themselves more and more vulnerable to them because Islamophobia has been made an acceptable prejudice. We all have to play are part in ending this nightmare, not merely because the horrific fruition of Nazi anti-Semitism began just like this, but because it is wrong.

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