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President Higgins speaks out against xenophobia

By Ann Marie Foley - 23 November, 2016

Pupils from Clonskeagh Mosque primary school sing a welcome to President Higgins.

Pupils from Clonskeagh Mosque primary school sing a welcome to President Higgins.

Widespread Islamophobia is “fuelled by an ignorance of the politics and history of the Middle East, ill informed stereotyping, a blindness to the many ways in which our Muslim citizens and residents enrich our lives, and a misrepresentation of the tenets of the Islamic faith itself,” said President Michael D. Higgins, on a visit to the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Dublin during its Annual Neighbourhood Week, 2016.

He added that events such as the Islamic Centre Neighbourhood Week enable deeper understanding of different traditions and cultures.

True integration is a “mutual process requiring both active participation and real engagement between host countries, and the newer communities they wish to welcome into their society,” said the President.

Recent decades have seen Ireland become an increasingly multicultural society. The Muslim population has grown in the past twenty years and is now estimated at 65,000. This Muslim community includes citizens from Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Algeria, Libya, Somalia, South Africa, Syria and Iraq.

People have migrated to Ireland after fleeing war and persecution, for study and work purposes, to seek new opportunities, and to reunite with family members already here.

“The conflict in so many parts of the world has given rise to a huge tide of people who no longer have a safe place to call home,” said President Higgins. “Most who come share the hope of a peaceful existence and an opportunity to contribute to their new communities and society.”

President Michael D. Higgins

President Michael D. Higgins.

The President of Ireland has visited communities across the country and heard stories of immigrants who have made friends, learned new languages, and adapted to their new country and culture. Many are involved in the community, in voluntary activities, sporting events and local clubs and organisations. He stated that through building such social networks, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect flourish.

“We must ensure we create a landscape in which different cultural identities are enabled to exist in harmony, neither subservient to the other; one which encourages a respectful curiosity about different cultures and enables easy access to all points of entry to Irish culture,” said the President.

Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Dublin

Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Dublin.

This year the Islamic Cultural Centre celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The President thanked Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Imam Dr Nooh Al Kaddo, and Mr Shaheen Ahmed for welcoming him to the Centre.

Separately this week, President Higgins held a reception for the delegates of the World Jewish Congress at Áras an Uachtaráin. He told the delegates: “It is not acceptable to see armed police outside synagogues and Jewish schools across European cities.”

He stated the people must combat all forms of discrimination and exclusion, wherever they arise.

“Racism and xenophobia are garnering electoral power in many countries; and one of the most important international agreements recently secured for our humanity’s common future on this fragile planet is now being challenged in the most alarming way,” he said.

President Higgins and Sabina with delegate of the World Jewish Congress

President Higgins and Sabina with delegate of the World Jewish Congress.

This is a time of great global and regional uncertainty, when barbed wire is being raised, and walls being erected, he added.

“Ours are times indeed when the universal principles of human rights, which may have been lodged in ancient forms, including the faith systems of the world, and upon which the nations of the world sought to rebuild the international system in the wake of WWII, are being challenged by a new surge of religious intolerance, nationalist passions and divisive identity politics,” he said.

In this age of unprecedented interdependence at global level, there is  “a landside” towards entrenchment and fragmentation, both within and between societies.

The President concluded that his hope is that the many nations, cultures and traditions who share this world “will respect and draw on each other” to accomplish “tikkun olam*: heal, repair and transform the world to allow for the flourishing of all of humanity.”

* Tikkun olam is a Jewish concept describing acts of kindness aimed at repairing the world. It is often used in discussion of social policy, especially that concerning those who may be disadvantaged.

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