Saturday, 5 March 2016

Islamophobia and the unintended power of prayer

It’s always good to replace doubt by certainty.

I’m not sure whether anyone still believes that the basis of Islamophobia isn’t racism, rather than merely religious bigotry. Some perhaps cling on to that illusion. So an incident at Luton airport the other day is at least helpful in dispelling any such uncertainty.

Laolu Opebiyi is a British citizen living in North London. He’s also a committed Christian. I repeat: Christian, not Muslim. He belongs to a group called ISI Men. I repeat: ISI, not ISIS. ISI stands for Iron sharpens iron and is a reference to the Bible: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).

Unfortunately, sitting on a plane at Luton he used his phone to text members of his group to suggest a conference call prayer, and received a most unwelcome lesson of the effectiveness of prayer, in a wholly unintended way.

The passenger in the seat next to him was reading the text over his shoulder.

“What do you mean by prayer?” he asked.

The neighbour was soon asking to be let off the plane as he felt unwell. And a little later, Opebiyi was taken off it himself by armed police, who questioned him about his beliefs and demanded the password to his phone so they could check just what he’d been texting. They asked him to confirm that he was not only Christian, but had never considered converting to another religion.

The police quickly cleared Opebiyi of the damaging charge of religious belief with intent to be a Muslim, and said he could travel on. Then the pilot intervened, refusing to carry him. So he had to catch the next flight. Seven other passengers who’d left the earlier flight to avoid him realised that he was going to be on the one they were taking instead, and there was another bit of a scene.

Eventually, he got to his destination. But when he returned, his passport was refused by the e-passport reader and border staff questioned him again. As he told the Guardian:

Someone felt I was a terrorist because they saw the word ‘prayer’ on my phone and now I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in and out of the United Kingdom.

I have nothing but sympathy for his view that:

Even if I was a Muslim, it was pretty unfair the way I was treated. I don’t think anyone irrespective of their religion should be treated in such a way. If we keep on giving in to this kind of bigotry and irrational fear I dare say that the terrorists will have achieved their aim.

An excellent point. The triumph of terrorism doesn’t lie in a bullet or a bomb. It happens in our minds and hearts.

Finally, here are some test questions for you.

What colour do you think Mr Opebiyi’s skin is?

Laolu Opebiyi: victim of Islamophobia.
Without even being Muslim
Do you still think that Islamophobia is all about the finer points of conflicting religious doctrines?

Aren’t we good in the West at illustrating our unshakeable commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights?

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