Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, has come under attack for defending a Christian Minister who described Islam as “satanic” and “heathen”, according to the Independent.
Mr Robinson insisted that Pastor James McConnell does not have “an ounce of hatred in his bones” and insisted it was the “duty of any Christian preacher to denounce a false doctrine”.
McConnell, who used to attend the same church as Robinson, delivered a sermon earlier this month that included the claim “Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell”. He went on to compare Muslims to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the terrorist group that was responsible killing an injuring hundreds during the troubles.
Despite his sermon being held in a church, Belfast’s Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, his comments are now the subject of a police investigation for hate crimes. But McConnell has so far refused to apologise and stands by his comments.
He also expressed his surprise that Robinson had intervened on his behalf. He told the Stephen Nolan show on the BBC: “I didn’t want him to get into trouble over me… He didn’t really need to do that, because when a man talks like that his career is at stake.”
When he was asked specifically about the police investigation he said: “What are they investigating? It’s freedom of speech, I’m allowed to say this,”
Mr Robinson was robust in his defence, saying that he would not trust Muslims who were involved in “terrorist activities” or those “fully devoted to Sharia law” for spiritual advice. But the Democratic Unionist Party leader would trust Muslims to “go down the shops” and give “the right change”.
The comments led Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness to attack Robinson, saying he had a duty to promote tolerance and respect. But Robinson did not hold back when he responded to his deputy on Twitter: “I won’t take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation on equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all.”
The response is a reference to the widespread allegations that McGuiness was involved in the IRA as a younger man.
Politicians from the Democratic Unionist Party overtook the Ulster Unionist Party after the peace process because of their uncompromising stance on terrorism. Anything that is seen to add to that narrative is likely to go down well in ordinary protestant communities and bolster the parties support.
As such attacking both the IRA and Muslim terrorists is unlikely to be an unpopular move in the territory. There are also concerns that hate crime legislation is eroding the rights of protestant ministers to express their views, as such a prosecution of McConnell is likely to end in significant civil strife: Perhaps even descending into violence.
Peter Robinson, pictured above with U.S. President Barack Obama, has since apologised to the Muslim community and said that he did not mean to offend.