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By Jason Michael
“DELIVER US, LORD, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety…” Those of us from the Catholic tradition of the Christian faith will be familiar with the words of the embolism, the words spoken by the priest after the Our Father and before the doxology; “for thine is the kingdom…” It is a request for peace and protection from anxiety, important things to hope for these days. As the pillars of our old certainties begin to shake all about us I have found myself returning to this petition with increasing earnestness every day. Whatever our take on prayer and God, we can’t deny the wisdom of those who, over two millennia, constructed this liturgy. They knew what was important to us. Peace and a quiet mind are as essential to our well-being as is our daily bread.
Earlier this year, following a spike in reported hate crime incidents over England and Wales, triggered by the Brexit referendum result, someone landed themselves in hot water with the anti-terrorism squad for posting letters advertising “Punish a Muslim Day.” Since then it seems as though every day a right-wing politician or celebrity makes the headlines with another anti-Muslim “jibe” or comment. Each time the media obfuscates the Islamophobic racist nature of these remarks. There is outrage, of course, but as we sink deeper into this hostile environment we cannot escape the feeling it is fast becoming the new normal as more characters on the right arrive with fresh offerings of bile to distract the public from their policy disasters.
Me & mum One day she was walking to our local shop when 3 men URINATED on her She has a crutch She froze She was t… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Fatiha El-Ghorri (@fatihaelghorri) August 08, 2018
On Wednesday last week Londoner Fatiha El-Ghorri shared a photograph on Twitter of her with her mother. Fatiha is wearing a hijab and her mother a niqab, showing them to be Muslim. She wrote that her mother, who walks with a crutch, was walking to her local shop when three men urinated on her. “The urine can be washed off,” she told her daughter, “so please don’t worry.” Fatiha and her mother hugged and wept. Last year my neighbours, a family who had come to Ireland from Syria, fled their home to escape the abuse they were receiving. Youths had smashed their windows, scrawled racist graffiti on their front door, and had attempted to assault their oldest son.
Something truly awful has been unleashed in our society, and the victimisation of Muslims in particular is only really the tip of the iceberg. TellMama, a website devoted to recording incidents of Islamophobic hate crime, has been charting the steady rise in this form of racism since February 2012. In its 2015 report, We Fear for our Lives, it found that Muslims who experienced Islamophobic abuse and violence “suffered a range of psychological and emotional responses to anti-Muslim hate, from lowered self-confidence and insecurity to depression, isolation and anxiety.”
This rise in hate crime is not limited to cyberspace. Over 2017 the site received 1,330 reports, a staggering 30 per cent increase in offline reports from the previous year. “More than two-thirds of verified incidents occurred offline, or on a street-level,” the site says, making this the highest number of reports of anti-Muslim hate crime it has ever received. When the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, recently made Islamophobic comments in a right-wing newspaper police in the United Kingdom noted a marked spike in hate crime against Muslims – against Muslim women in particular. Mr Johnson, who knew fine well what he was doing, emboldened racists. This cycle of politicians and celebrities making dog whistle comments and thugs taking the hate to the streets is fast becoming normal in British politics.
Why should we care? Why should I care? I opened this article with a reflection on the Mass, a reflection which pretty much betrays my position in this. I am a Christian. Not a Muslim. What should I care what happens to Muslims and other non-Christians? If the increasing bitterness of the far-right in the UK – a movements that claims to be protecting a “Christian society” – is anything to go by then we shouldn’t care.
Today marks the anniversary of the death of Father Max Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1941. After ten fellow prisoners escaped from the camp the SS selected ten inmates to be starved to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the men chosen to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out: “My wife! My children!” Overcome with pity for the man Max volunteered to take his place. After 16 days without food inside a small cell in Block 11 he was injected with phenol, causing his death.
Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) August 14, 2018
But why did Max Kolbe care? What did it matter to him that a man he did not know was going to die? People died in Auschwitz-Birkenau every day. Everyone there wanted to get out alive. Why would someone offer to exchange their life for a stranger? In such extraordinary circumstances it is impossible to know what we would do or why Max did what he did, but whatever it was that moved him to do this it began with compassion and solidarity. We hear people use this term ‘solidarity’ a lot. When someone is faced with or overcomes some injustice someone will say – or more often tweet – “solidarity” in response. Yet, this is as close to real solidarity as love is to hate. It’s more akin to well done or I support you. Solidarity is closer – as the Polish people well know – to the religious concept of compassion; not, as its modern use would have us believe, a vague sense of pity, but a thorough self-identification with the suffering of others.
Father Kolbe understood that what was happening to Franciszek and the other nine condemned men was happening to him – it was happening to all Poland, and to the entire world. Even before the escape Kolbe was in a state of compassio (Latin: to suffer with) with his fellow prisoners. The evil and darkness that had fallen on Poland from September 1939 was the deepest suffering of all Poles, no matter their religious or social background.
We are not prisoners in Auschwitz, but a terrible darkness has fallen over us. Muslims have been singled out for “special treatment” much like the Nazis singled out Jews, Gypsies, and others as scapegoats. But the targeting of Muslims, like the targeting of the Nazis’ victims, is indicative of a war that is being waged on all of us. When those in power in society victimise a minority they do it for a number of reasons. One reason is to mask what they are actually doing and another is to frighten everyone else. If the powerful can encourage thugs to attack Muslims or Jews or members of any group in broad daylight then they can do it to us. In 1941 the German occupation of Poland was all about theft. The Nazis were in Poland to steal land and plunder the resources of the nation. The brutality and the mass murder, hidden beneath a thin veil of ideology, were intended to misdirect and confuse. Terrified people don’t ask questions.
In 2018 Brexit and the disaster capitalism of the British establishment is also all about theft. This is the latest development in a class war project designed to transfer the wealth of our society to the very top. The reduction in rights, the deregulation, and the tax benefits for the wealthy that will come from Britain’s departure from the European Union will make the wealthiest people in the UK even wealthier – and more powerful. The last thing these robbers want is a class based solidarity emerging in the class they are despoiling. A distraction has to be found.
Somewhere in London (@LondonJafari) July 21, 2018
Muslims in Britain are a vulnerable minority. Thanks to decades of social conflict in poor housing areas between white British people and brown Muslim immigrants, a profoundly xenophobic tabloid media, and the ramping up of the terrorism myth there is very little sense of social solidarity with Muslims in the United Kingdom. So long as non-Muslim working class people are kept agitated enough with government and media-orchestrated Islamophobia, the larceny can continue unchallenged. As the abuse and violence intensifies – as it is doing – the rest of the population will be terrorised into passivity, opting to keep quiet rather than bring the threat of violence upon them. This is how it works. This is always how it works.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe – just an ordinary Polish man – set an example to his country, showing Poles how to resist the evil of the Nazis and the death camps. His act of resistance – and it’s odd to think of self-sacrifice as resistance – inspired his country’s fight against Nazism and its later fight against Communism. It was this idea of solidarity – the complete self-identification with the suffering and hardship of others – that underpinned the Lech Wałęsa’s Solidarność movement. “No one has greater love than this,” as the Gospel reading for today’s Memorial Mass says, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is solidarity and the meaning of compassion.
When Fatiha’s mother was urinated on we were urinated on with her. When the windows of the Abboud family were smashed, when ugly words were written on their door, and when their son faced the threat of violence we were victims with them. We resist this with the victims as victims in common cause, seeing their sufferings and injuries as our own. So long as we are not solidary with them we will remain victims. Choosing not to suffer with them, we will only suffer the same fate. Coming together in solidarity and moved by compassion, we become a body that cannot be defeated.
English Defence League chase Muslims in Dewsbury