Simona Zudyte talks to Irish Islamic spokesperson Dr Ali Selim, about the Muslim community in Ireland and on the special challenges that the new international threat now pose to gardaí.
It is the question on the lips of many. How safe are we in Ireland from recent acts of Islamic state terrorism? Dr Ali Selim, spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ireland (ICCI), argues that we are safe compared to other countries. He explains that Ireland doesn’t have the right environment for Islamic State sympathisers and the initiators of terrorism acts. He remains confident that Ireland is safe simply because the Muslim community is treated equally and fairly. However, he did advise that the Garda Síochána should be more involved with the Muslim community and learn more about their culture.
Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in Ireland. Approximately 500 Irish citizens convert to Islam each year. The number of Islamic believers is expected to reach 100,000 by the 2020s. They can also claim to be the third largest religion on the island of Ireland, with one percent of the total population consisting of Muslim believers; which is equivalent to 49,204 in the 2011 census.
Today Dr Ali Selim claims that there are over 65,000 members of the Muslim community in Ireland. There are approximately 32 known Mosques, prayer and cultural centres, with most located in the Dublin region. The religion is rapidly growing since it was first established in Ireland in the 1950s with the creation of the first Dublin Islamic Society; later renamed the Islamic Foundation of Ireland. The first Mosque and Islamic centre was opened in 1976 in Dublin and indeed the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, contributed to the cost of opening the first Mosque in Ireland.
Dr Ali Selim is a firm believer that Ireland is in no threat of an attack as it is internationally famous for being neutral during conflicts that occur in the world. According to him Ireland managed to create a very inclusive atmosphere and that is why people across all communities co-exist in peace. He added that even though there is no danger for any attacks here in Ireland the support from the government and gardaí is necessary for the Muslim community.
Selim said, “Minorities and communities always need a helping hand as they are more sensitive and sometimes may feel that things are done against them.”
“Radicalism can only be planted where you have the right environment and the right soil for it; Ireland doesn’t have the right environment for the creation of radicalism.”
However, he believes that other countries like France have provided the right environment and the right soil for this plant [of radicalism] to grow. According to him France made the worst mistake when they “pushed Muslims to live in ghettos, in poverty and with a low level of education.” They have created what Selim describes as a ‘second class citizen’. “How would you expect a second-class citizen to act? It will be hatred,” he added.
Garda clinics that were introduced in 2007 used to take place every second Friday after the prayers between 2-3pm, proving to be a very good activity for the Muslim community. On Fridays the Mosque in Clonskeagh, Dublin is attended by approximately 1000 Islam believers. “In clinics a lot of people approached them[the gardaí] and talked to them about problems they may have had and also the gardaí themselves had a better understanding of the Muslim community,” Selim said. Unfortunately, garda clinics stopped around a year ago. He strongly believes that it brought people closer together and it helped the Muslim community as they could approach the gardaí with their troubles and questions.
Selim, who is also a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, was invited to a number of functions hosted by the Garda Intercultural and Diversity Office (GRIDO), where he answered questions and also gave a lecture introducing them to aspects of Islam. “This gave [the office] a better understanding of the Muslim community,” he said.
Selim feels that to improve the gardaí’s relationship with Muslims in Ireland, they need to recruit more Muslims to the Force, so that they may then give advice to other members of the Force if there ever is a misunderstanding, or a clash within the community.
When asked, Selim quickly dismissed the speculation that between 30 to 50 Irish Muslims have been reported to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight in the war as “100 percent not true; currently nobody goes.” He continued, “The highest number that may have travelled to Syria is seven or eight people. The figure that we heard in the report contributes to Islamophobia and should be authenticated before being published in the media.”
“When those [seven or eight] people travelled to Syria at the start, it was a clear cut revolution against a dictatorship and against an oppressive regime. What is wrong with that?” He explained that Irish Muslims who travelled to Syria were motivated by the level of the oppressive regime and by the level of crime they saw and not by Islamic terrorist organisations.
Some Irish people have grown to fear the return of Muslims who fought in Syria and Iraq, as it may be difficult for them to integrate back in to Irish society after the traumatic experience they may have endured while away. Selim dismissed these claims, as he believes that those people will not come back and even if they do they will have no problem switching back to civilian life.
He said that the Muslim community saw people who travelled to Libya during the revolution to overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who are returning to Ireland and they are integrating back in to Irish society. “They are living like civilians. They don’t have guns, they don’t fight, they don’t shoot,” he said.
Younger members of the Islamic community worldwide may struggle to integrate into society; they quickly become an easy target for ISIS aiming to recruit more Muslims to join their force. Although Selim denied any cases of Irish Muslims traveling to ISIS controlled regions, it has been estimated by others that at least 30 members from the Irish Muslim community have travelled to Syria and Iraq. The Irish Islam fighters denied being Jihadists or terrorists. The Egyptian born Hudhaifa El Sayed (23) who lived in Drogheda Co. Louth, was said to have joined the war to defend the weak and died fighting against ISIS in December 2012. So far, one known radical that calls himself Irish-Nigerian, has been using social media and other means to urge Muslims around Europe to come to fight with the Islamic State soldiers.
In response to the threat, Garda Special Branch has established Counter Terrorism International. CTI works closely with EuRad, a European body that fights radicalism and terrorists within Europe, and also with United States affiliates such as the CIA and National Security Agency.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD was one of the first to admit that the Irish are not immune to an ISIS terrorist threat and that it was “important that people stay vigilant.” Nowhere can this vigilance be more critical, than on the front line of Irish policing.
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.