In the current emotional climate following the assassinations of French journalists in Charlie Hebdo it is worth pausing to examine the immediate response. There is a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment washing over Europe and it is a good idea to separate the wheat from the chaff. If nation states respond by targeting Muslim populations it would not be the first time in history that we aimed a sledgehammer at the wrong walnut.
Step back to the mid 14th century, when the black death was scourging Europe. Christians noticed that the Jewish population had a lower infection rate and a higher survival rate. Back in those days there was no appreciation of the importance of hygiene and quarantine amongst the Christians. The fact that Jews lived apart in Ghettos and that they practiced better hygiene was lost on a population in panic. Someone decided that it was a Jewish conspiracy and they were poisoning the wells. On Jan 9th 2015 we can remember the Basel massacre, when the city fathers shackled 600 innocents in a barn and set it alight. To add insult to injury any surviving children were forcibly converted to Christianity. Basel was only one of many such massacres, which happened from Barcelona to Brussels.
In more recent times we Irish well remember what it was like to be an Irish person living in Britain in the 1970’s. On the one hand you were bound to be a terrorist, a member of the IRA and a supporter of bank robberies, murders and bombings. On the other hand you were an ignoramus from a sub-human culture who could not aspire to the intellectual heights attainable by solid English stock. No wonder so many Irish people hid in plain sight by adopting English accents and avoiding “Irishness”.
Spare a thought for all the hard working, decent, innocent Muslims in Europe who are now looking over their backs in fear because yet another lunatic Islamist cell has done something atrocious. Just as the Provisional IRA never represented me or my interests, the Islamic State does not represent these people.
Decisions made in times of fear and panic can seem logical at the time, but in retrospect they frequently turn out to be really bad actions. Spare a thought for the 600 Jews who died in Basel on this day in 1349 simply because they survived the Black Death. Spare a thought for innocent Muslims, who are the greatest victims of Islamist terrorists. Instead of discussing reactionary policy we should be discussing the roots of the problem and the potential for long term sustainable solutions.