Elham Asaad Buaras
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has made a public apology over controversial remarks about Islam a week after he made them.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader sparked a storm of criticism after publicly backing the evangelical protestant preacher, Pastor James McConnell, who on May 18 attacked Islam as a “doctrine spawned in hell” and said he did not trust Muslims.
McConnell branded Islam a heathen doctrine; “People say there are good Muslims in Britain – that may be so – but I don’t trust them,” said the pastor. “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
On May 25, Robinson said he too would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance but would trust them to “go down the shops”.
The DUP leader finally made a public apology a week later, on June 3. Speaking to the media after a meeting with members of Belfast Islamic Centre, he said: “I apologise if anything I said has caused them hurt and I can see that in many cases it has.
“I apologised to them face to face, personally, man to man the way it should be done. The very last thing that I would have ever in my mind would be to cause anyone hurt or distress or to insult them and I make that publicly clear as well in the clearest possible terms.”
“I cannot spend the rest of my life apologising but what I can do is spend the rest of my life building the united community that I believe we want in Northern Ireland.”
A spokesman for the centre Dr Raied Al-Wazzan said: “We accepted the apology in private and for us that was a sincere apology and we accepted it.”
However, Dr Al-Wazzan told The Muslim News that some member of Northern Ireland’s Muslim community were initially “not happy with accepting the apology in private at first meeting with First Minister on May 29, but they changed their mind after he apologised in public and also publicly supported building a new Islamic Cultural centre in Belfast.”
Critics say Robinson had dragged his feet in apologising he initially went on to say his original remarks had been “misinterpreted and given a meaning that was never intended”.
He also rationalised that claiming not to trust a section of society was not a hate crime, equating his comments to people “who say they don’t trust politicians.”
A DUP spokesman told The Muslim News, “Robinson outlined his views and made it clear that there was never any intention on his part to offend or cause distress to anyone.”