By Stewart McDonald
The appalling comments by UKIP’s David Coburn, aimed at my good friend Humza Yousaf, have yet again highlighted the racist underbelly of UKIP. The comments, in which Mr Coburn refers to Humza as convicted terrorist Abu Hamza, have shocked many but surprised few. I confess to being one of them.
UKIP is a nasty party. This is not new information. However that cannot be an excuse to simply shrug our shoulders and ignore the remarks, and what they represent. Instead we must challenge them as vociferously as we can.
It is particularly unfortunate that Coburn’s remarks should become known at the start of Islam Awareness Week, an event whose main aim is to promote social cohesion rather than dwelling on differences – and it is in that spirit that I have written this article.
Humza has written a fantastic piece in the Daily Record about how this kind of abuse makes him feel. He has also shared some of the abuse that he puts up with on social media on a daily basis. It was this article that got me thinking about how prejudice, no matter who it is about, is almost always the same. It is intended to generate hatred, fear and division.
Over the years, and particularly since 9/11, millions of newspaper column inches and on-screen news time has been dedicated to telling outright lies about Islam and about Muslims. The Muslim faith has been subjected to some of the most vicious and dangerous lies that anyone can imagine, in the hope of generating a general feeling that the Muslim living next door to you; working alongside you or sitting across from you is a bit dodgy and you should be suspicious of them. They’re guilty until proven otherwise. What it is they’re guilty of can be anything. Not being British enough; not sharing our values; not doing enough to combat extremism in their own community – the list goes on. We have boxed ordinary Muslims into the dock and turned justice on its head.
This is not dissimilar to the onslaught of hatred that was aimed at gay people in the past. Gay people too were something to be suspicious of; people to watch yourself around and people who were dirty, unclean and contaminated with AIDS. Perhaps the worst word ever thrown at gay people was the word pervert. It didn’t matter how outrageous, wild or, dare I say it, hurtful the lie was, it had to be told in order to divide the public between ‘them’ and us. The lie then becomes an accepted truth.
Although you don’t have to look solely at history to find this level of hatred aimed at gay people. In countries not too far from our own – supposedly western, liberal countries – gay people are still made to feel like second class citizens. If you travel further afield, gay people are being imprisoned or killed just because of whom they are – and yes, this includes some Islamic countries too.
However what I, an openly gay man, want to offer is a message of solidarity to the Muslims of Scotland who are continuously subjected to lies, hatred, racism and Islamophobia. I don’t believe what these people have to say, or have said, about the gay community, and I don’t believe what they have to say about you and your community either. I, and many in the LGBT community, stand with you in the face of this onslaught, and have a responsibility to tackle it head on alongside you.
When trying to be a part of society, and wanting to make a positive contribution the common good, it can be hard to keep going when constantly having to battle prejudice and ignorance. The gay community knows this only too well. However the simple truth is this: Muslims have already made this country a better place. Your contribution as individuals, and as a faith collectively, demonstrates beyond question that you are helping take Scotland forward in so many ways, from public life; the arts; in business and in local communities, and we are all the better for it.
This may seem to some like an unlikely alliance to some, but in so many Muslims that I have met and count as friends – in particular people like Humza Yousaf and Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh – I have found a genuine desire to rid our society of those who would seek to divide us. In fact when I proposed a motion for national conference to my local SNP branch on removing the gay blood ban, it was our vice-chair, himself a Muslim, who seconded that motion to go to conference, which was then successfully passed by acclaim.
Just as the excellent film Pride told the story of lesbian women and gay men from London uniting to support striking miners in Wales, let us now write a new story of LGBT people uniting with Muslims to want to promote tolerance over intolerance. That will mean some challenging of attitudes within our own communities, for sure, but that is not something that we should shy away from or allow others to use as a tool to divide us. What’s at stake is far too important.