Belfast Telegraph

What militant Islam needs to learn from Martin Luther King

By Alf McCreary

This Monday is Martin Luther King Jnr Day, and it might give many people pause to think about the power of the message of non-violence in changing the world.

A few months ago I visited King's former home and his church in Atlanta which was the spiritual powerhouse for his leadership of the Afro-American Civil Rights Movement.

It is a place of pilgrimage for many peacemakers as well as tourists, and there is an impressive and dignified setting for the King Center beside a memorial pool and landscaped gardens.

Visitors also hear extracts from some of Dr King's inspiring speeches, and his presence hovers over that area, and particularly in the small, original Methodist Church, where his father was also the minister.

Later in my visit to the USA, I went to the motel in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, when he was only 39.

Nearly 50 years on, his example of non-violent protest speaks volumes across the decades of unrest since then, and now during the murderous and barbaric campaign of militant Islam.

Some people may argue that King's non-violent campaign was only partly successful, because the civil rights movement in America had to battle against deadly opposition, particularly in the Deep South.

In Northern Ireland, the civil rights movement, which began in 1968, was partly based on Martin Luther King's example, but it was hijacked by the Provisional IRA, which was anything but non-violent.

Nevertheless, the concept of change through non-violence, or in the American case non-violent disobedience, remains a striking contrast to militant Islam, which is using murder as a weapon to try to strike terror into its perceived enemies in the West. The last fortnight has shown the depravity of this campaign, with the murder of 17 innocent people in France.

Television has the power to bring the pictures into our living-room, but we cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak and fear created by such events.

The response of the French people, and President Hollande, has been impressive, as well as that of the leaders and people of 40 other nations.

The remaining staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have been magnificent in their resilience, and they have shown courage in producing the latest edition with a sensitive cartoon of Mohammed, including the theme of forgiveness.

Predictably the majority of Muslims interviewed about this on television were unhappy at the outcome and were quick to take offence.

In a multi-cultural society the Muslims need quickly to grow up to the fact that other religions, and particularly Christianity, have been very seriously criticised also, and in some cases most unfairly so. However, it is a measure of the strength of Christianity that it can withstand such attacks, and turn the other cheek.

Forgiveness and toleration are not signs of weakness, but of strength.

That is a lesson which has taken us a long time to understand in Northern Ireland, where violence was tried for some four decades, and ultimately failed - even though the dunderhead dissidents keep on trying.

The example of Dr Martin Luther King seems a long way from the turmoil of today, but sooner or later militant Islam will learn that it cannot rely on its savage violence to bully the rest of the world into submission.

It is sad that so many militant movements, for so many decades and centuries, have failed to understand that violence does not pay in the long run, as we know only too well.

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