The first demonstration in Britain by the anti-Islam group Pegida UK finally took place in Newcastle, a region perhaps with a smaller ethnic population than almost anywhere else in England.
The protest happened on my doorstep in Darlington, where as someone from a Middle Eastern background I was as bewildered as I was worried. I was bewildered because my experience of people in the North East is that they have no rivals for kindness and hospitality to people from other backgrounds.
Despite living here for years and my obvious Arab-like appearance, neither I nor my family had ever felt obvious racism.
Probably the opposite. One small example, just the other week, my nephew paid us a visit from London to enjoy some North Yorkshire cycling. On his route from Darlington to Richmond he stopped near Barton, where he asked a local lady whether there was a cash machine. She said there wasn’t one, and, to my nephew’s astonishment, offered to give him some cash. Where else in the UK does this happen?
The anti-Islam protest in a region so devoid of racist and religious animosity indeed worries me.
This is not because I don’t share the fundamental concern about the danger of dogmatic Islam. Instead, I fear Pegida misunderstands the nature of the threat that this religion and in particular the Salafist Islam poses to all of us, whatever our origins.
As a Kurd born in Iraq, I know what it is to suffer from Islamic zealotry. The very existence of my Kurdish people is under threat in those parts of Kurdistan located within the current borders of Syria and Iraq.
That is why, if needed, I would not hesitate to return to Kurdistan and join my compatriots to protect humanity against the barbaric Islamic State-IS.
It is worth recalling, however, that an allegedly secular Sunni Muslim dictator named Saddam Hussein, once a favourite of the West during his war against Shiite Muslim fundamentalists in Iran, committed equally grave crimes against my people (next week will be the anniversary of gassing the town of Halabja in 1988).
I am not even prepared to give a Facebook “like” to Pegida’s action in the north of England. As an anti-theist, I oppose Islam as a way of life for myself and my family, but I cannot despise or harass a woman for wearing a hijab. That is her business as long as does not collide with mine.
I am certain many of those participated in the protest were shocked by the unbearable images and videos of IS’s unimaginable atrocities and feel the need of protests and actions.
But they must also know that it was only 70 odd years ago when similar notions and actions led to mass killing and catastrophe in Europe as millions were gassed and killed.
Of course, that does not mean at all we should do nothing about the misuse of Europe’s tolerance and liberty by mindless religious, fanatics or moderates.
The free world of the 21st century must make it absolutely clear that human rights and freedom trump any ancient books you believe in, whether the Torah, New Testament, Quran or anything else.
While writing these words, I am cautious not to offend a semi-literate religious fanatic in a Saudi-built and financed mosque somewhere in the UK.
I know for sure the British government won’t hesitate to gag any of us in order not to upset states such as the Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the root and birthplace of these evils. Yet I should not censor myself nor let myself be censored.
I always believed that the Islamic religion is modernity-proof; hence can’t and won’t adapt itself to this era.
I am glad someone like Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6, has reached the same conclusion by saying “as a whole [Islam] is not well geared to reviving and modernising itself so that it meets the values and the norms of a 21st Century society”. Thus we all have a moral duty as well as survival instinct to search for a way out.
Pegida UK, instead of organising football hooligan-like demonstrations would be more effective if it sponsored civilised protests, seminars, discussions, lobbying of politicians, advertising campaigns and better use of social media.
Then they may a have a chance to persuade people like me, who are the first victims of Islam and whose goal is to defeat barbarism for the sake of humanity.