It took a reckless e-mail from a university account to fan the flames of religious intolerance in Port Elizabeth, and understandably has caused great offence to the Muslim community.
Yesterday’s front page report in The Herald was a perfect reminder of how intolerance of any of our country’s religious communities leads this country nowhere except to a polarising of attitudes and disrespect for other faiths.
Individual values may differ, but tolerance for our neighbours is enshrined in our constitution, whether God-fearing or agnostic.
Many may not see the gravity of the offensive e-mail, brushing off its contents as a misplaced attempt at humour.
Unfortunately, in a country with such a diverse range of citizens, one individual’s joke is another’s insult.
Jokes often rely on stereotypes, but in this case the “joke” was a crude attempt to use religious differences to ridicule and demean.
To add fuel to the fire, the mail was ostensibly sent by an NMMU employee from her work e-mail account.
Although the sender has said her mail was hacked, that remains to be verified. At the very least, the e-mail is against the university’s stated values of religious tolerance and inclusivity.
More than one spokesman for the Muslim community has written to the university saying the content violated rights to religious freedom and worship.
It is ironic that the rector who authorised a Muslim prayer facility only a year ago is now in the firing line, but all credit to Professor Derrick Swartz who took action within hours. As he notes, “Islamophobia has become a scourge in many parts of the world today”.
That goes for any persecution based on religious or racial supremacy.
Let us not follow the example set by world leaders such as Donald Trump whose moves to prevent travellers from certain countries entering the US are inflammatory and discriminatory.