THE WAY I SEE IT #28 : By Darren Murphy

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ALTHOUGH I’m not a religious person, I find religion intriguing. All the different faiths, practices and cultures simply amaze me. I also respect people’s faiths and beliefs, even though I personally don’t believe in a god or some divine existence. Tony Adams, the former Arsenal captain, was the only man I ever worshipped and he was a drunk. So what does that say about me?

I hold no prejudices against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or any other religious followers. I discriminate against no one or no group of people. I shamefully admit, though, that in my youth and as part of a social group, this wasn’t the way I thought about things. Not because I’m a racist or a xenophobe, but simply because I was a lot less educated then than I am now and when I was a youngster I was far more naïve. As I’ve grown older my empathy levels have surged and my compassion for other people has increased. I believe this is a great thing because it has allowed me to look at the world differently from the way I did as a youngster.

Because of this outlook and my willingness to learn about other cultures, I find it alarming how Muslims are being discriminated against.

In my youth, Muslims were bearded terrorists who hated the west. Plain and simple. You’ll have to forgive me for this wildly inacurate perception. But I often think that a significant amount of religious discrimination is simply down to people being uneducated, and this population group is getting bigger and bigger due to the fact that many schools are now cutting back on religious studies. I also believe that many British newspapers fuel Islamophobia. It was even revealed in the Leveson Report that journalists had been encouraged to make up negative stories about Muslims.

You cannot pick up a tabloid or watch the news these days without mention of Muslims committing crimes. There is no denying there are extremists out there, who carry out atrocities and who do want to harm the west. It is important to remember, though, that extremists are a minority (less than one per cent) of the Islamic faith. The majority of the time their reasons for committing acts of violence are political rather than religious. Extremism is dangerous and present in all faiths, not just Islam.

I find it puzzling that when a Muslim commits an act of violence, it’s extremism. However, when Anders Breivik committed his atrocious act of terrorism in Norway, his religion was never brought into consideration. He was labelled insane. No-one called him a Catholic extremist.

Extremism is making Islam look evil, which is not the case. Like any other faith there are good and bad people. I find it difficult to understand why the media tends to portray so much of the negative side of Islam, or any religion for that matter. If people were better educated and the bias of newspapers was removed, this would lead to a much better understanding of religion and culture, and I’m sure we would see a dramatic reduction in discrimination and a lot less religious hate crimes.

Unfortunately, persecution has been around since the dawn of time and, at present, Muslims are being targeted on a near indiscriminate basis. You need look no further than the predominantly Muslim state of Palestine to realise this.