WASHINGTON, June 3, 2014 — Some Muslims in Northern Ireland have announced plans to leave the country to avoid anti-Islamic violence. The announcement comes after an attack on a Muslim family in the city of Belfast, when crazed rioters broke into their home and assaulted them.
The home invasion came after remarks from Belfast based Pastor James McConnell, who said in a sermon “The God we worship and serve this evening is not Allah. The Muslim god-Allah-is a heathen deity. Allah is a cruel deity. Allah is a demon deity.” He later added that Islam is “a doctrine spawned in hell.” Hospitalization was required for at least one of the victims.
A second attack occurred only hours later, also resulting in injuries. Victims told the Northern Ireland News Letter “The victim’s friend, who had been cleaning up the broken glass outside the house after an attack earlier that day, said those involved in the attack had called the pair ‘dirty Arabs’ and ‘Paki b******s.’”
The term “Paki” is viewed as a racial slur in Europe , particularly when directed at individuals of Pakistani descent (or of a similar appearance to those who come from Pakistan). The News Letter reports a young woman and a middle aged man have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
Pastor Paul Burns of Adullam Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast agreed, telling the Belfast Telegraph “When Pastor McConnell is talking about it as a direct teaching of Satan – it is.”
The Christian News Network reports “Following McConnell’s May 18th sermon, the Police Service of Northern Ireland investigated the preacher for allegations of hate crime. Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the preacher’s comments as ‘hate mongering’ and said the anti-Muslim statements ‘must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.’”
McGuinness told the Daily Mirror “Coming in the wake of recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only serve to fuel hatred … [It is] essential that there is a full and thorough investigation of these comments and their potential to generate further racist attacks.”
The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, has also thrown his support behind Pastor McConnell. According to the BBC “[Robinson] went on to say that he would not trust Muslims either.”
The remarks by the Pastor and First Minister have been met with strong criticism from the Christian community. Presbyterian Reverend Dr. Rob Craig spoke out against the remarks to the BBC, stating “They are not consistent with the Gospel of Christ and the love of God. I would be deeply offended if someone were to brand either all Presbyterians or all Christians with some extreme act by someone who claimed to do it in the name of Christ. I want to treat my neighbor as I would want to be treated myself.”
“As Christians, it is our duty to spread the love of God across Ireland to those whom we meet and with whom we come into contact, irrespective of nationality, race or creed, and be gracious in doing so,” said a spokesperson for another Church to the Belfast Telegraph. “I would reject any generalized view of Muslim people,” he continued. “I do not view Islam as a monolithic religion but as taking different expressions and possessing within itself a variety of theological traditions.”
“I believe that the Church of Ireland is right to engage in constructive dialogue with other religions. To do so is not to endorse other religious beliefs but is to recognize those of other faiths who are willing to join in such an effort will do so in the right spirit,” said Canon Ian Ellis, editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette.
Facing a police investigation over instigating a hate crime, Pastor McConnell has attempted to backpedal by apologizing to the victims of the attack and offering to pay for the damages caused by the home invasion. It is unknown if the offer to pay for the attack counts as a legal admission of guilt in Northern Ireland. First Minister Robinson has also backed away from his remarks. Critics describe the apologies and changes in demeanor as “insincere.”
“I’m regretting what happened to me. The friends told me yesterday ‘we were right what we told you before, not to go [to Northern Ireland],'” said Muhammad Asif Khattak, a victim of the attack, to BBC.
BBC reports that hate crimes in the country are up 30% from last year, but successful investigations into attacks has plummeted to 20%.