There has been a chorus of demands for the First Minister to apologise publicly for his comments defending a Pastor’s anti-Islam remarks. Yet I don’t think he should apologise.
Why? Simple – he’s not sorry!
This was yet another example of the DUP jumping to the defence of some crazed bigot simply because he was “one of us” (from a Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant perspective). Muslims, of course, do not qualify as “one of us”, and are therefore in the eyes of the DUP and its supporters to be subjected to less than equal treatment. After all (so goes the DUP’s groupthink), this is a Christian (indeed Protestant) country so why would Christians (Protestants) not be given preferential treatment even when they’re crazed lunatics?
I repeated on UTV’s The Issue programme last week that the First Minister’s comments were not an accident. No one asked him to intervene. No one put pressure on him to respond. He chose to give an interview on the subject, he chose to defend a bigoted lunatic, and he chose to dismiss Muslims as capable of trust only when “going to the shops” and other such servile activities. This was pre-meditated. An apology would be utterly hollow, as it would indicate he did not mean it – when actually he did.
I was delighted to be among 4,000 people at City Hall on Saturday – it was uplifting to feel there are so many people in our great city who are willing to stand up and be counted against racists and xenophobes. However, we cannot forget that 130,000 people voted DUP first preference a week previously – and I doubt many of them are feeling guilty about it now. Social media has been full of people condemning racism, but also full of people simply denying that attacks are racist. This is a social challenge, not a political one.
By the way, we needn’t think this isn’t double-edged. Look at the standard way Sinn Fein dismiss opponents as “anti-Republican” or “anti-peace agenda” without actually addressing their arguments. On Twitter at the weekend I was even “barred” from expressing an opinion about Celtic Football Club because I’m not a supporter (i.e. not “one of us”)! This is all about labelling people and then dismissing them if they have the wrong label, rather than entering into open and rational debate.
What is needed is not an apology, but a fundamental change of attitude from tens of thousands of people.