I was interviewed on Voice of Islam radio this week about Brexit, Donald Trump and challenging prejudice. Here is audio and transcript of the interview.
With us on the line is Michael Nugent, a writer from Dublin and chairperson of Atheist Ireland. Michael, what are your views on the surprise wins for Brexit and Trump? My personal view is Trump was very surprising, Brexit not so much. Why do you think people voted for less ‘mainstream’ options?
Well, I am disappointed with both results. I would have supported Remain, and Hillary Clinton. But I wasn’t particularly surprised at either.
The best description I have seen of the Trump win is that his opponents took him literally but not seriously, and his supporters took him seriously but not literally.
So for example, his opponents were thinking this man is a buffoon, you can’t build a wall all the way across the Mexican border. And his supporters were thinking, well, of course he won’t build a wall, but he is strong on immigration.
I don’t think either result should have been too surprising. I think the media underestimated the support for both, and that caused people to be more surprised than they should have been.
But I don’t think either result reflects any major change in British or American society. They were essentially very close. Each result was approximately one third each for the winner, the loser, and those who didn’t vote. So a slight swing either way would have changed the results. But it wouldn’t have changed society.
We talk about a rapid increase in hate crime, especially after these political changes. And one of the victims are Muslims in Europe and the United States of America. How dangerous do you think that is to the society that we live in?
The first thing I would say is that I don’t think the phrase ‘hate crime’ is a good phrase. I think it is counterproductive.
It lets people off the hook who are not motivated by hate, and it lets people off the hook who have not committed crimes, because they will — correctly — say that we are not hate criminals.
I think a better term for what we are talking about is Prejudice Motivated Behaviour, or if it is a crime, Prejudice Motivated Crime.
Because the prejudice, which is the internal motivation, is what we have to challenge. And that can be hatred, but it can also be just immature bullying, tribal paranoia, or revenge for some real or imagined injustice.
So that is what we need to be challenging. It is far wider than hate. And by focusing just on the hate, we let a lot of people off the hook who are part of the problem, but don’t realise that they are.
Michael, yesterday there was a news article which spoke about lack of integration in the UK. Who is to be blamed for this? Doesn’t integration require both sides to work together? Does the onus of integration fall on the immigrants or citizens to help immigrants integrate? can you pinpoint, or are both of these together, and who is to be blamed according to you?
I think integration is important, but I think it should be integration into human rights values, not into the native values of any society.
If I was living in Saudi Arabia today, or if I was living in South Africa under Apartheid, I wouldn’t agree to integrate into the values of those societies.
We should be trying to get everyone — whether they are native-born or immigrants — to integrate into values like compassion, empathy, cooperation, reciprocity, fairness, justice and human rights.
And I think that if we focus on those, rather than on where people come from, then we have a stronger case to argue that these are the values that we should be trying to get people to integrate into.
Michael, lastly, what should communities, and people of different faiths and different communities, do to build bridges? Can we eradicate, as you mention, prejudice?
Ideally, by bringing people together, who have different or overlapping identities, to work together on common goals.
Atheist Ireland has a unique alliance between Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland, as three groups with very different world-views who are all discriminated against by the State, in terms of lack of separation of Church and State, particularly in schools. So I think it is important to work together.
I think it is also important that we make a distinction between prejudice and behaviour. We can only change prejudice and bias by education, community leadership and social pressure. We cannot change how people think and feel by making it illegal. But we can change discrimination and violence by making it illegal. And so we need to make that distinction.
I think it is important that we don’t become what we are challenging. That we don’t, while challenging prejudice, become prejudiced against people who don’t think like us.
The final thing I would say, is that it is important to challenge prejudice against individual Muslims. And it is also important to be able to support criticisms of the human rights abuses by Islamist regimes, and not conflate those two things together.
If you are criticising, for example, how Islamist regimes in the Middle East treat women, treat gay Muslims, treat Ahmadiyya Muslims, treat members of other religions living there, that’s not ‘Islamophobic’. That’s not Anti-Muslim. Most of the victims of those prejudices are Muslims.
Absolutely. I do agree with you on that one. Michael Nugent, writer from Dublin and Chairperson of atheist Ireland, great to have you on the show and thank you once again.