Fazel Ryklief watched in dismay as news of the Dundalk attack that left one man dead and two injured spread on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, a tide of anti-immigrant abuse directed at Muslims had begun to swell on social media .
"In the end, irrespective of whether he was Syrian or Egyptian, it all came down to him being a Muslim. Islam always gets the brunt of it," said Ryklief, who works at the Islamic Foundation of Ireland in Dublin.
“I want to stop feeling guilty about being a Muslim every time someone with a Muslim name does something like this,” he told The Irish Times, adding that he was not surprised that some media outlets immediately concluded that the alleged attacker was a Syrian.
The majority of Muslims condemn all violence, and abhor the killing of anyone, he went on: “As soon as the police mention the words ‘terrorist attack’ people go mad. They don’t wait to establish the reasons.”
However, the “terrorist” rhetoric that has surrounded Muslims in recent years is having this effect, feared Dr Saud Bajwa, a consultant at Galway University Hospital and spokesman for the Galway Islamic Cultural Centre.
Change in attitudes
Dr Bajwa says the vast majority of Irish people treat Muslims with respect but that he has noticed a change in attitudes in recent years. “There is no doubt that these days people are quick to jump to conclusions,” he said.
“On our side, we’re always praying sincerely that the latest attack is not a Muslim thing. I still think there is a wider good out there in Ireland but there are always people who look at me with doubt because I am a Muslim.”
“This fear is from the unknown – when everyone is shouting that these people are dangerous, even the mildest unfamiliarity can create a sense of fear. I love this society I’ve chosen to live in.
“But if we don’t block this stereotyping and if decent people don’t get involved and ask people to use their intellect rather than jumping to conclusions, things will get worse,” said the Galway-based consultant.
Ali Selim, spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin's Clonskeagh, says Irish people should take heed of their own recent history with Britain before drawing conclusions about members of the Muslim community.
“It was just yesterday that if you crossed the Border and spoke in an Irish accent you’d immediately have your papers checked. Even today people still talk about the cartoons of Irish people in the British press. I believe this history will stop most people from stereotyping.”
The Clonskeagh-based iman told The Irish Times: “Terms like terrorism are not healthy for our society. In this case we are dealing with a man who is mentally unstable. No normal human being would act in this way.”
Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri, imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, Dublin agreed, saying that the Irish people's experience in recent decades should prevent them from stereotyping an entire group of people as terrorists.
“This marginalisation of a community is pretty much how the Irish were treated during the 70s and 80s when every Irish person was treated as a potential terrorist. It’s a terrible experience for anyone affected by it and still haunts Irish people today who faced that physical or verbal violence.
“It’s sad that some people, particularly on social media, make assumptions before gardaí even say anything. It’s creating an atmosphere of anger and hatred towards a community that is already victim to these atrocities.”