Our country, the Republic of Ireland, has traditionally been a country heavily dominated and controlled by the Holy See and its religious values of Roman Catholicism. However, things are now changing profoundly. The rise of secularism in Ireland is an interesting phenomenon to observe, particularly the high velocity at which change is coming. My generation, sometimes referred to as ‘millennials’, are comparatively much more progressive than the preceding so-called ‘baby-boomers.’ Irish society is beginning to take a step back and question the authority of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties and the alternating grip they have had on our country since its establishment. Left-wing politics is becoming more popular among younger people, we see this with the rising membership of Sinn Féin and the dramatic support of Bernie Sanders among youth platforms in the U.S. (Washingtontimes.com, 2016.) The Roman Catholic Church no longer wields immense influence in state affairs and just over a third of Irish Catholics attend Mass on a regular basis (Irishtimes.com, 2012.) Of course, the state can employ cultural and religious values in its education system, but the real question is whether they should – especially while such marked societal changes are taking place.
The ever-changing political landscape has, throughout history, presented innumerable social problems for governments to attempt to alleviate and for the general public to attempt to understand and avoid. Arguably, the largest issue facing Ireland in the twenty-first century, like virtually all other member states of the European Union, is that of the European migrant crisis and the xenophobia surrounding it. This said crisis is multifaceted, the deep-rooted origins of it are indeed complex with certain aspects only loosely interconnected. The vast majority of migrants arriving to our continent are genuine people escaping the horrors of poverty and conflict, who also happen to be mostly Muslim, from nations such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea. However, the rise of terrorism committed by a narrow minority of Islamic jihadists, albeit a spider’s web of different organisations, has instilled fear and irrationality in a sizable percentage of the Irish population. This fear of not only jihadists, but Muslim people in general, is being perpetuated ever still by far-right politicians, some of whom I will discuss in more detail later on, and their associated media. These individuals firmly point the finger of blame at the likes of the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh for what they view as unprovoked acts of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ against western civilisation. While others accuse the Bush administration and the other coalition forces, for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, especially citing the disruption of the Middle East following the violent and perhaps poorly planned ousting of Saddam Hussein’s government. It is thought by some that Hussein, while a brutal authoritarian and undeniable violator of his citizen’s basic human rights, upheld law and order in Iraq and the greater region. Regardless of its origins, the problem is most certainly an increasingly divisive one and one thing must be made clear, the entire Muslim faith cannot be held accountable for the atrocities of an extremist few. It is important, we, as Irish people, separate religion from morality, as they are not synonymous words. It is irrelevant whether or not we are religious, it is, however, important that we have a set of moral values. Daesh, also commonly referred to as the Islamic State, has wreaked havoc across the Arab world and cities closer to home in recent times, such as Paris, Brussels and Nice. Countless innocent lives have been needlessly lost and there is much reason to be infuriated by that fact, though there is evidence to support claims that most victims of jihadist attacks are actually Muslim (Fas.org, 2011.) Therefore, there exists no justification whatsoever for xenophobic attitudes towards Muslim refugees seeking sanctuary in our open-minded country. In my humble view, we must welcome these persecuted people with open arms and treat the war on terrorism as a separate issue to tackle.
Islam is an Abrahamic religion with a traceable common origin with Christianity, lest we forget the fact the religious heritage celebrated by the indigenous population of this island for sixteen centuries started in the Middle East. Thus, Islam should not be regarded as an alien religious movement, it ought to be respected and tolerated if not embraced. Islam is not a terrorist faith, it does not explicitly preach in its holy doctrine, the Qu’ran, the perpetrating of paramilitary combat against non-believers. Seemingly, some people forget that Muslims are fellow human beings with, on the overwhelming most part, respective consciences and compassion in their hearts. In this regard, they are not unlike people of different faiths or people without faith at all. Most Muslims wish to carry on with their everyday lives in peace, without any unnecessary hindrance or petty obstruction from misinformed bigots who oftentimes act as deplorably as the Islamic terrorists they supposedly oppose. Our society is becoming more and more liberal as time progresses, though there is a frightening chance many Irishmen and Irishwomen could swallow the toxic lies spouted by former far-right fringe groups now comfortably in the mainstream. Our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom, boasts xenophobic political leaders such as Nigel Farage of UKIP, and the current Prime Minister Theresa May, who has ambitions of dramatically decreasing Britain’s intake of refugees per annum. It comes as no surprise then that xenophobic and racist attacks are on the rise in the U.K. following their vote to withdraw from the E.U. With the widespread usage of social media and accessibility of diverse news networks, Irish people are no longer sheltered from the prevalence of Islamophobic smearing across the western world. The appalling, racist rhetoric of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is unfortunately appealing to far too many ‘ordinary’ people. The equally troubling Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France is also receiving a worrying degree of support from her countrypeople, with her party now the third-largest three months ahead of the general election. Trump proposed the blocking of all non-American Muslims from entering the U.S. (Jeremy Diamond, CNN, 2015), while Le Pen has made a startling comparison between Muslims and Nazi occupiers (BBC.com, 2015.) Trump has since slightly backtracked from his promise and now Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are being refused at entry. Nobody from the aforementioned seven states has ever committed a fatal attack in the United States (Huffingtonpost.com, 2017) – it seems oil is much more important to Trump than supposed ‘safety measures.’ Our society must shake off this bitterness and not allow it to poison our nation’s morals. We must not discriminate against an entire religion, as such discrimination, like all forms of discrimination, is without merit or logic.
Our Republic has come a tremendous way from the darker days of the past when the population were, en masse, acting as puppets of the papacy, an organisation now so out of touch with the modern world it is truly ludicrous. The former reality of Roman Catholic dominance in state affairs and everyday life is now distant in most people’s memory. Together, we, as a nation, have expanded equality to sexual minorities and have granted those of the LGBT community who wish to marry and adopt the right to do so. The decriminalisation of homosexual activity came just twenty-two years prior to the momentous referendum result that ruled a strong majority in favour of equal marriage. Since then, Irish people have reopened debate on the hot topic of abortion rights and other social issues, such as the legalisation and regulation of prostitution. The liberalisation of our country, to me, can only be a positive advance to society and we have only just begun this journey. As it stands now, a prehuman zygote has more rights than that of a living, breathing refugee with feelings and emotions. Ireland must take in a considerable amount of additional refugees, the current proposals of granting asylum to 4,000 refugees is not satisfactory from my viewpoint. The Irish government should commence special employment programmes, setting up lines of work for able-bodied refugees and in turn, bolstering the economy while indirectly aiding their positions in our society. While most Irish people, 68% according to one poll (Newstalk.com, 2016), are happy to reside in the vicinity of refugees, just under half believe that 4,000 new arrivals will steadily increase crime in our small nation. This attitude is, regrettably, not a rare one, and we have the media’s scaremongering after terrorist attacks to thank for that. But make no mistake, the refugees coming from nations in the Middle East and North Africa were born and raised under differing degrees of sharia law. A law regarded as conservative, restrictive and intensely severe to Irish people who often take for granted the wide range of liberties we are allowed to enjoy. Though refugees are escaping such oppressive regimes, with them they bring values that do not always correspond with our society. Multiculturalism can, undoubtedly, be a nation’s greatest treasure, but for our country to be successful, all peoples under our flag must respect one and another for their differences. For our differences can make us stronger and the envy of other nations, such as the U.K., who will face major problems if they continue down this path of detrimental discord. It is crucial that the refugees understand the way in which our liberal political system works, and I wholeheartedly believe that, if they truly wish to remain, they will do so.
It is often appropriate to look back into the past to see where we are at present, or where we are headed in the future. Ireland, as an island, has experienced unbelievable conflict in the past century, a lot of which was on ethnosectarian grounds. Many church-related scandals have taken place also, such as the Magdalene laundries, the clerical abuses and the marginalisation of LGBT people. Moderate anticlericalism and secularism should be the official policy of government and no religious institution have a special status. The Irish government must remain distant from issues of religion, allowing all of its citizens to practise their own faiths. The public, state-funded educational establishments must not have one religion or denomination on its curriculum, no child must feel that they should be participating in it against their own will. There is a difference between moral values and religious values, one can know the difference between right and wrong, yet not adhere to any religious movement. The government’s utmost duty should be to promote and encourage morality in everyday life and obedience in the justice system, however, not in the form of Catholic, or indeed Islamic, propaganda. The true meaning of a democratic, egalitarian nation is one that allows the freedom of expression to all of its citizens. Many Irish people have been trained by the former governments of the twentieth century to follow Roman Catholic doctrine word for word, though this cannot be acceptable in this day and age. It is commonplace for priests to have a central place on state-funded school’s board of managements, while many teachers, particularly in rural areas, ingrain principles of Catholicism into their students. The state should advocate morality, while simultaneously encouraging equality in the field of religious beliefs or lack thereof. It is also pivotal for the state to discourage and shun those who carry out xenophobic acts, thus delivering continuity in the ultimate goal of an egalitarian society.
In conclusion, the society in which we live is changing, this cannot be argued nor can it be denied, however we ought to preserve the positive aspects at the foundation of our state. We should offer sanctuary to those fleeing from their homelands smothered in turmoil, and I am of the conviction that 4,000 refugees is not enough. Our nation is rearranging its structural perimeters and reevaluating the way governance is conducted. We are progressing, moving forward, and we must continue to move in this direction. Ireland has the potential to be a pillar of equality and an asylum for the persecuted, irrespective of their religion. It is to be expected in our liberal first world society that all people, newcomers or not, respect one and another. It acts as a necessary requirement for us to be a nation with values of tolerance and absence of prejudice. That is the kind of Ireland we should be, that is the kind of Ireland we have to be.