Let's not turn a PC blind eye to Islamic injustices
Marks & Spencer's website bans the word 'Christ', but not 'Allah' or 'Mohammad'. Why are so many of us quick to criticise Christianity, but utterly spineless when it comes to challenging other religious fundamentalists, asks Suzanne Breen
A clergyman's wife is sending a bouquet of spring flowers to thank someone for lovingly nursing a recently deceased church member. She tries to place her order with Marks & Spencer's online floral delivery service.
But when Geraldine Stockford attempts to add a free message to accompany the flowers, an onscreen notification tells her, "Sorry, there's something in your message we can't write."
She's perplexed. Her message is utterly inoffensive: "Thank you for your care and practical help for Margaret in her last days. With love from her church family, Christ Church, Teddington."
So, Geraldine rings the store's customer service department only to be told that "Jesus Christ" and "Christ" have been placed on a list of banned words by M&S. "Allah", "Mohammad" and "Buddha" are permitted.
Disgracefully, the voices of the great and good weren't raised in righteous indignation at the store's preposterous position. The equality agenda is championed only when it's non-Christians facing discrimination.
Had the wife of an imam suffered such an experience ordering her bouquet there'd be an orgy of outrage from PC politicians and human rights organisations. Pickets would be held outside M&S stores and questions asked in the House of Commons.
Christians, by comparison, are left to fight for their rights alone. In this case, they did and the company was forced to lift its ban after a barrage of online complaints.
But the lack of solidarity with a group suffering religious discrimination - because they're the "wrong" religion - leaves me deeply uneasy.
The same double standards apply when a religious figure says something controversial. We're quick off the mark when it's a Christian nutter, but we see and hear no evil if it's anybody else.
We wanted Pastor James McConnell to wear sackcloth and ashes for his comments about Muslims and Sharia law last year. Thousands of people took to the streets to express their disgust at him. There were strong statements of condemnation from the Equality Commission, Alliance, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein.
Pastor McConnell was reported to the PSNI and subsequently questioned by them about an alleged hate crime. Not only was he demonised, but anyone attempting to even put his comments in context was vilified, too. The issue made media headlines for weeks.
Fast-forward to January, when Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, executive secretary of the Belfast Islamic Centre, spoke favourably of the conditions created by Isis in Iraq. He said the terror group had turned his home city Mosul into one of the earth's most peaceful places.
Some in the DUP muttered their discontent, but there wasn't a word of condemnation from anybody else. Dr Al-Wazzan barely experienced a hard question in the Press - let alone a media witch-hunt.
I'm certainly not suggesting he should have faced one. But I understand how, when it comes to free speech, Pastor McConnell may feel hard done by.
Because so many on the liberal left who are up in arms about the God Squad here are totally gutless when it comes to challenging Islamic fundamentalism. It's a question off, "Ssh, don't mention Sharia law".
Islam today ranks as the most reactionary religion in the world. It tolerates no criticism. Christian censors tried to ban a blasphemous play in Newtownabbey last year, but at least the physical safety of the writer and director were never at risk.
Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot dead and partially decapitated for making a film criticising some of the Koran's teachings about women. A death-threat to the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali was pinned to his body.
Joke about Jesus in newspapers and magazines and you won't lose any sleep. Mock Mohammad - like the journalists at Charlie Hebdo - and you lose your life. And still we don't hammer Islam, like we do Christianity, because we fear being labelled racist.
This is nonsense, because a religion isn't a race. As a system of beliefs claiming power over others, it's as deserving of criticism as any political ideology.
We denounce the DUP over its gay blood ban and same-sex marriage. But homosexuality is a crime under Islamic law. Indeed, Islamic scholars have debated whether gay people should be burned, or stoned, to death. Thousands of homosexuals have, and are still, being executed in Muslim countries.
Oh, what gay men and women across the Islamic world would give if the only injustice facing them was a bakery not icing a cake.
We are keen to denounce and deride golf clubs like Royal Troon for denying women membership. But we stay silent on Islamic practices, which mean women effectively go through life veiled and chained.
It's not enough to say that the worst abuses are happening abroad. Imagine that Christian churches in other parts of the world decided to embrace stoning, honour killings, the death sentence for homosexuality, public flogging, cutting off limbs as punishment for theft, wife-beating and all the degrading Sharia laws against women.
Wouldn't we be demanding that the representatives of that religion here be railing against these practices day and daily?
Why do we never ask Islamic leaders in Northern Ireland if they consider homosexuality a crime? Would they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a Muslim who is out and proud and would they worship with him?
Why do we not bother to ask them for their views on Sharia law, where a woman's testimony is worth half a man's and daughters get half the inheritance of sons?
We are experts in flushing out the reactionary stances of Christian fundamentalists, but, by not even posing the questions, we allow the sexism and homophobia of other religious figures to remain in the closet.
I can't recall anyone ever asking Muslim leaders here about the gender apartheid in the Belfast Islamic Centre, where women are banned from praying in the same room as men. If such a situation existed in Belfast's Metropolitan Tabernacle it would be headline news and Pastor McConnell and his successor would be hauled over the coals until it changed.
We shouldn't stand idly by and allow any religion to enforce second-class citizenship. That is collaboration. Of course, we must keep holding Christian bigots to account. But let's stop turning a PC blind eye to injustices perpetrated in the name of Islam.
If our attitude to religious fundamentalists of every hue isn't "a plague on all your houses", then we're understandably open to the accusation that we're cowards and hypocrites.