When Sri Lankan Muslims these days as Muslims all over the world are observing the Ramadan fast, it is as good a time as any to focus on the Islamophobia that puts god fearing Muslim brethren all over the world in all kinds of discomfiture. Strangely, the Islamophobia in Western countries is far more pronounced than the so called Islamophobia of the fringe groups here in Sri Lanka which despite everything that’s said about that phenomenon -- is something that happens in the social fringes.

The Islamophobia in London or in Berlin or New York however is very often seen to be institutionalized and mainstreamed.

There is a conscious effort to portray the Islam religion as one of war mongers, and moreover there is an effort to say that Islam’s holy book encourages war over peace, love, and harmony.

How ludicrous this position is, was shown recently by Mehdi Hasan, an Oxford University student when he participated in a debate at the Oxford Union on the topic ‘Islam is not a religion of peace.’

The video is available on You-tube and was also recently played on the People’s Power programme broadcast each morning on SLBC, with an accompanying commentary.

Mehdi made short work of the hypocrisy and bigotry of the whole Anglo Saxon Protestant caboodle that though monumentally ignorant, hold sway over the affairs of the Oxford Union.

Earlier in this debate some of the speakers had seriously suggested that anti Semitism is propagated by Muslims who follow to the tee the ‘admonitions for war’ that figure in the Koran.

Hasan ripped through that argument with abandon. He said that there would be six million extra Jews today in the world had not those proponents of Judeo-Christian thinking exterminated the Jews during the holocaust. In fact he said if the Muslims were ruling Europe during World War 2, that many Jews – ‘extra Jews’ he said -- could be counted among the world Jewish community today.

However, Mehdi cautioned that he doesn’t want to frame the debate as a contestation between Christianity and Islam in which one religion was the religion of love and peace and the other wasn’t. He said both are religions of peace though some adherents had used the religious teachings out of their context to wage wars, to carry out crusades and the like.

Mehdi is stirringly eloquent, and hats off to him for that – but what’s more important is that Islamophobia is so institutionalized in England that the Oxford Union, the crucible for free thinking and vibrant discourse apparently, can mainstream this Islamophobia to organise a debate suggesting something that is so outrageous as ‘Islam is a religion of war.’

Just because there are Jihadists and there are crusades, does that mean that Christianity and Islam are not religions of love and peace? Those who suggest any such thing are fundamentally bigoted as they obviously do not know or care about what’s happening around them.

For example Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan. They do so in empathy with the poor and destitute, and that’s expressly stated in the Koran -- and yet Islam is a religion of war?

As Mehdi said a survey found that 93 per cent of the Muslims the world over who were surveyed on the subject of terror attacks such as 9/11 for instance were against such offensives. The 7 per cent who condoned the attacks cited political and not religious reasons for their approval of Islamic extremism.

This month of Ramadan, it is imperative that we a tolerant pluralistic society empathize with Muslims who are under the gun all over the world because it suits war-mongers of all stripes to paint Muslims as incorrigible extremists.

That pigeon holing is agenda driven, and the intellectual sustenance for such agendas come from Oxford which must surely be a place for bigots and ignoramuses.

Particularly this month of Ramadan, we need to give thanks to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka that added colour to, and in so many different ways enriched the diverse tapestry of Sri Lankan life. To all Muslims and others joining them this season of the fast, Ramadan Mubarak!