Pastor James McConnell’s description of Islam as ‘Satanic’ and his suggestion that Muslim people are not trustworthy is dangerous hate speech. The fact that these comments were defended by First Minister Peter Robinson – although he would trust a Muslim to ‘go down to the shop’ for him – and by other senior politicians is a shocking reflection of backward and racist attitudes at the heart of the political establishment here. Rightly, this has provoked outrage at home and across the globe.
Comments like these have consequences. In the last year, there has been a 43% rise in racist attacks in Northern Ireland, some of which are being orchestrated by paramilitary groups. Immigrant workers and their families have had their homes attacked. A Roma man had faeces thrown at him. Alliance MLA Anna Lo has been subjected to a campaign of racist abuse and is now considering leaving Northern Ireland. The thugs who carry out these attacks use the scapegoating and demonisation of immigrants and ethnic minorities by right-wing politicians and the gutter press to legitimise their actions.
The danger of rising racism and xenophobia was highlighted in the results of the recent European elections. In Britain, the anti-immigrant UKIP topped the poll, as did the far-right Front Nationale in France. Across much of the continent, racist parties saw their support rise. Neo-Nazi groups with jackbooted military wings were elected to the parliament from Germany, Hungary and Greece. The rise of these groups is a consequence of the economic crisis which has rocked Europe in recent years and the austerity agenda being implemented by capitalist governments across the continent, including the Assembly Executive.
The massive gambling debts of the bankers and speculators have been shifted onto the shoulders of ordinary people through cuts and privatisation. Racist, right-wing groups are feeding off people’s anger at mass youth unemployment, lack of decent, affordable housing and cuts to health and education.
As well as challenging racism head-on, we need to tackle the social conditions which allow racist ideas to breed. The most effective way to challenge racism and anti-immigrant prejudice is to build a united movement to resist austerity and fight for decent jobs, homes, health and education for all. Central to this must be the trade union movement, which unites workers from all backgrounds. Part of this fight should be to ensure that immigrant workers are unionised and given proper rates of pay, rather than super-exploited by profit-hungry bosses to drag down wages for all.
The fight against racism and austerity needs a political voice. We need to build a new, mass party which will challenge all forms of inequality and prejudice, as well as fighting back against the cuts agenda of the Stormont parties. We need a party which will unite ordinary people from all backgrounds to fight for our common interests and make the super-rich, the bankers and big business pay for their crisis.