Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Peter Robinson needs to do more than simply explain

First Minister Peter Robinson should now give greater weight to the wider interests of the whole community and reassuring investors
First Minister Peter Robinson should now give greater weight to the wider interests of the whole community and reassuring investors
Peter Robinson has clarified remarks he made about Muslims
Peter Robinson has clarified remarks he made about Muslims

The signs are that Peter Robinson doesn't really grasp the scale of offence he has caused to the Muslim community.

He needs to move very fast to scotch the impression of intentional offence.

A private meeting with the Islamic Centre in Belfast won't cut it.

Last night I spoke to him and his approach was to explain; to claim he had been quoted out of context and to point to his previously good relations with our tiny but influential Muslim community.

It is all right, he says, for preachers to denounce false doctrine and that is just freedom of speech which he would defend for anyone.

He did not mean that he would distrust all Muslims, just ones who were involved in terrorism, and ones who abided by Sharia law. Yet he would not explicitly disassociate himself from Pastor McConnell's statement that even good Muslims can’t be trusted.

Knowing him for many years, I believe he was genuine and meant to put things right.

But there was also an element of pride — he does not like backing down.

When you are trying to heal a hurt you have to be more generous. You need to accept that offence has been caused and say what is necessary to put things right.

As a Bible-believing Christian he will know St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,” it says.

Giving grace and comfort to those who hear is not just finding a form of words. He may think it is all right for Pastor McConnell to say what he did, but it not appropriate for the First Minister to endorse and defend it.

That is what kept Khalid Khan awake at night, persuaded his children to stay in England and made Samina Dornan feel shamed to the core to be a Muslim from such a place as this.

Mr Robinson should listen to Khalid Khan's words.

“A lot of the Pakistanis here are doctors. We pay 50% tax. I am a very hard worker. I have given my soul, blood and sweat to the health service.

“I didn't not take the pastor seriously at first but when I see the Health Minister and First Minister in the same camp as him I feel very, very strongly.”

This isn't the talk of a thin-skinned fanatic, it is the talk of a decent family man and a valued member of society.

The pastor was touched that Mr Robinson was risking his career to defend him.

Mr Robinson should now give greater weight to the wider interests of the whole community and reassuring investors, rather than to simply pleasing his friends.

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