Christine Jardine: My shock at Islamophobia wrapped in Union flag

On Friday we held the first of what we plan to be regular advice surgeries at Blackhall Mosque. I was there with local MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton and Councillor Hal Osler.

It was an idea that had emerged from a discussion at the recent Visit My Mosque open day, when Mr Cole Hamilton and I had been invited to speak to the congregation.

Both that visit and Friday’s surgery were uplifting, fulfilling events where I felt both welcomed and respected by the community.

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What followed was very different.

While there, I spoke with two mothers who told me that they were worried about this week. They admitted that the disgustingly named ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ had made them feel afraid to leave their homes on that day.

They didn’t want to give into what they know is a minority, but it was still enough to make them fearful for their own and their children’s well-being.

I offered support and, I felt, reassurance, that yes it was a minority and certainly not something we should be afraid of in this part of the world. I was wrong.

On Friday evening I posted pictures on Facebook of the visit. What followed shocked me.

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I was brought up in Glasgow where sectarianism is almost commonplace. But I had never experienced anything like this.

After removing a string of offensive and abusive comments from my page, I posted another comment asking people to be more respectful. That was a waste of time.

It seems my offence was to cover my head, something my Church of Scotland-going grandmother long ago taught me I should always do in a place of worship.

It wasn’t that there were outright threats of physical violence but a constant stream of demands for justification of my actions, condemnation for a simple act of respect to my constituents and a promise that I would never receive their political support again.

How dare I? Why was I cow-towing to ‘these people’ – a phrase which both infuriates and depresses me at the same time – showing ‘them’ respect that ‘they’ don’t show ‘us’?

Insults which I won’t repeat were thrown about with frightening ease. Most had one thing in common: the profiles came wrapped in a flag, predominantly, but not exclusively, the Union flag.

Islamaphobia is not new. But like anti-semitism and racism it is experiencing a sickening renaissance.

Somehow in our country it has become unremarkable to not only hold offensive, often extreme views, but to express them freely and direct whatever bile you feel necessary without fear of criticism or feeling any remorse.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all bleak. Amidst the deluge of negative, bitter insults there were moments of welcome and much needed support.

Genuine, good hearted people from all walks of life added their comments in defence, not just of my action, but of those who had played no part other than simply being.

I had gone to the Mosque on Friday simply to meet some constituents and, where appropriate, offer my support. Instead I found the experience gave me much, much more than I had anticipated, and more than anything else a renewed resolve not to give in to the narrow nationalistic bitterness that threatens to undermine that most valuable of commodities – common humanity.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West