The sheer viciousness and futility of Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism was sadly brought home only too clearly on Christmas Day last year, by appalling acts of terrorism as Christian churches in Nigeria were rocked by bombings. It was reported that at least 35 innocent worshippers were killed in an explosion in a Catholic church in a suburb of Abuja, while in Jos a second church was also hit by a bomb blast. Responsibility for these attacks was soon claimed by an extremist Islamist group by the name of Boko Haram. This kind of indiscriminate attack on innocent civilians is, of course, expressly forbidden in the Qu’ran.
That such an attack should take place on Christmas Day only heightens the sense of what an appalling atrocity this was. Yet again Islamic Fundamentalist terrororists have proved that they nothing constructive or intelligent to say to the world. But the atrocities also remind one an earlier atrocity when not African, but Afro-American Christians were brutally murdered in what should have ben the sanctity of their church. That church was the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
On Sunday 15th September 1963, a number of sticks of dynamite exploded in the basement of the church, during a Bible study class for black children. Four of the children, Denise MacNair, 11, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, lost their tragically young lives in the blast. As in the blasts in Nigeria at Christmas, it was an extremist who was to blame for this particular cowardly attack. On this occasion it wasn’t an Islamic terrorist however, but one Robert Edward Chambliss, a member of the local Klu Klux Klan.
Whilst it is true that the Birmingham attack took place nearly 50 years ago, it is worth remembering that there are still well-documented links between the far-right in Britain today and what remains of the Klu Klux Klan in the USA. And then of course there were the links between the EDL and the Norwegian mass murderer Andres Breivik with claims that Breivik attended EDL demonstrations in London and Newcastle upon Tyne last year and the mass murderer praising the extremist organisation in print in his 1 500 word ‘manifesto’. This is all to be exptected in the murky nightmare world of extremism, where grandiose racist nonsense and a propensity for violence come together, in the minds of both Islamic Fundamentalists and White Supremacists.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, on Christmas Eve last year, thousands of Christians flocked to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the highest number for ten years. Palestinan officials, and remember the vast majority of Palestinians are Muslims, declared themselves to be ‘proud’ of the turnout.
Christmas has also sadly become a time for scare stories that Christmas is being banned – and of course ordinary decent Muslims are taking the blame. But often these stories are simply not true. For instance it was widely reported that Birmingham City Council had banned Christmas and replaced it with ‘Winterval’ – at the behest of non-Christians – but this was simply not true.
Indeed something very different is actually happening. Rather than complain about Christmas, many ordinary Hindus and Muslims celebrate it, even to the extent of having a tree and a special meal to mark the day. There are also many examples of Muslims volunteering to help Christian charities on Christmas Day so that they can be kept open, whilst Christians have the day off to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Members of the Islamic Society of Britain have been influential in the multi-faith group Phoenix, which aims to highlight this activity to counter the myths perpretrated to try and divide us all.
As for the extremists, it seems clear that for all their shallow rhetoric, the far-right in the guise of groups such as the BNP and the EDL on the one hand and Islamic Fundamentalist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram on the other have much in common. They are all intolerant of people with different views to themselves, they all fail to get their arguments across through reasonable debate and most crucially of all they all contain many individuals who think nothing of resorting to violence and intimidation when people reject their implausible, narrow ideas as to how society should be run. They are just two sides of the same grubby coin.