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October 11, 2015

Anti-Islam, anti-Muslim rallies 'Fizzle' nationwide

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

"Sorry, Islamophobes: Your Anti-Muslim rallies ended up inspiring acts of love and service"

This headline of the Huffington Post best describes the fizzle of the nationwide anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rallies organized by what Carol Kuruvilla calls a loosely affiliated group of armed protesters.

"After hearing about armed protests scheduled to take place around mosques, the interfaith community rallied around Muslims. Instead of dividing the communities they targeted, news about the rallies strengthened bonds between interfaith allies and inspired numerous acts of community service around the U.S., Kuruvilla writes in the Huffington Post.

Although up to 35 Facebook pages were created in support of the rally, according to the anti-bigotry group Center for New Community, the majority of these were deactivated in the days leading up to Friday, October 9. The group had called for anti-Islam rallies for Friday and Saturday. It was reported that such rallies have been planned in around 20 cities nationwide.

A protest scheduled to happen in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, had to relocate to the grounds of a public library because the organizers hadn't gained a permit, according to Arab American News. Fewer than 10 protestors reportedly showed up, four carrying weapons. Counter protestors spent time engaging in dialogue with those who seemed to have an anti-Muslim viewpoint. The two groups left after shaking hands. 

Another rally was scheduled to take place at Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C. The Facebook page announcing that event was later taken down. Still, a few interfaith allies attended a Friday prayer service at the mosque to make it clear that they were willing to stand alongside Muslims. Catherine Orsborn, director of the Shoulder to Shoulder interfaith campaign, which aims to end anti-Muslim bigotry, was one of the leaders who attended the prayers. Other than a security protocol leaflet inserted into the program, she said the service went on as planned and the community didn't seem to be on edge. "The sermon wasn't about the protests, it was about freedom, justice and equality," Orsborn told the Huffington Post.

Michigan's Muslim Community Council directed Muslims and their interfaith allies to avoid counter-protests and instead commit to serving the community. Volunteers planned to distribute clothing and school supplies to people in need at the Muslim Center in Detroit. Others signed up to plant trees and organize a youth dialogue on politics and social justice. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said Sunday (Oct 11) that anti-Islam hate rallies planned at mosques nationwide on Saturday "fizzled" and that interfaith partners turned out at a number of mosques to show their support for the Muslim community. CAIR noted that one hate rally in Phoenix included apparent neo-Nazis wearing swastika symbols.

The CAIR listed a number of images and media reports contrasting non-existent or poor turnout for the hate rallies with enthusiastic support for Muslims by interfaith partners:

About 30 people of other faiths turn out at Maryland Mosque to show support against haters. The people of various faiths showed up at Dar-Al-Taqwa Mosque in Howard County – to support the mosque. In Alabama, planned protest outside Huntsville Islamic center falls flat. In Oregon anti-Muslim rally "re-branded" as pro-police.

Few Islam haters showed up in Oklahoma while interfaith partners showed support for Muslims. The CAIR also circulated picture of a lone anti-Islam protester in Oklahoma City.

In California, there were not anti-Islam demonstrations. According to ABC 7, an anti-Islam rally was announced outside the Islamic Center in Oakland but the rally was cancelled.  In Fresno, State University advised the Muslim students to stay home for their safety. However, major San Francisco Bay Area did not follow Fresno's measure.

In Tennessee, supporters outnumbered protesters at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.  According to Daily News Journal, at one point, a few pick-up trucks bearing Confederate flags and a few cars — many with out-of-county tags —  gathered at the entrance to the parking lot. Sheriff’s deputies met the group, and those cars soon dispersed.

In Texas, anti-Islam protester outnumbered 100 to 1 as people showed support for local mosque after concerns over rumored anti-Islam rally.

More than 100 people came out to the Khursheed Unissa Memorial Community Center (Amarillo, Texas)  in anticipation of an anti-Islam rally, but all but one latecomer were in support of the community center.

Many groups appeared at the rally: Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists and atheists.

The Rev. Jim Wallace, pastor at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, found a lesson and metaphor in all the supporters standing by the side of the road, in a ditch, in support of their neighbors. He thought of the parable of the good Samaritan. “I’m here because Jesus said to love one another and love your neighbor as yourself,” Wallace said.

“Jesus never gave any exclusions. The good Samaritan was the one that stopped and went in the ditch, and I don’t think the Muslim community is in a ditch. We may have different ideas and different understandings, but they are our brothers and sisters.”

Washington State: KHQ Right Now TV network of Spokane, Washington, reported that anti-Islam protests took place Saturday in 20 cities across the nation, but here in Spokane, community members held an interfaith celebration to celebrate the differences among Americans.

According to Seattle Times, approximately 40 community members came to show solidarity for the Muslim community in Bremerton. The group gathered outside Seaside Church in Bremerton, the former location of the Islamic Center of Kitsap County. No demonstrators from “Global Rally for Humanity” appeared for the rally.

At Seattle's Interfaith Community Sanctuary, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Buddhists participated in joint prayers on Friday. They screened the film "American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction," which presents information about the Muslim community, from how often Muslims watch television to how often they attend religious prayer services.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh joined leaders of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in distancing Boston from the so-called Global Rally for Humanity. “There’s a lot of demonstrations going on around the world and in the United States, but it is important for all of you to understand that your city supports you,” Walsh said, as applause filled the sunlit sanctuary. “We in Boston stand together,” said Walsh, clad in a suit, tie, and navy-and-turquoise dress socks, his cap-toe dress shoes respectfully stashed in the corner.

Phoenix Protest: According to the guardian, the protest outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, though, attracted more than 120 demonstrators – and more than 30 law enforcement officials. Anti-Islam protesters lined up along a street, faced by a smaller set of counter-protesters, with the sides separated by two sets of metal crowd control barriers. They frequently yelled at each other.

American flags were prominent among the anti-Islam crowd of approximately 80 people, about a third bearing arms ranging from revolvers to assault rifles. Several people on the other side of the street were also toting weapons. Open carry is legal in Arizona.   “We’re just exercising our first-amendment [free speech] rights. We’re all about peace and love,” said the organizer of the rally, former US marine Jon Ritzheimer, a pistol on his hip. Joanne Scott Woods, a counter-protester and community activist, said the anti-Islam protesters “have freedom of speech but they are bigoted. Just bigoted. We can’t change that. I’m glad they’re not shooting us.”

Several demonstrators – one draped in the Confederate flag – were asked by police to leave. The event broke up after three hours, without further incident.

Organizers of the anti-Islam rallies have cited the “Justice or Else” rally for 20th anniversary commemoration of Million Man March, as motivation for the anti-Muslim rallies. Louis Farrakhan, 82,  leader of the Nation of Islam announced in June last that a rally will take place on October 10 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. Speaking from the podium on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Louis Farrakhan said Saturday: "I'm honored to be here in front of this great great house that was built by black slaves."  He praised the protesters behind Black Lives Matter, calling them the next leaders of the civil rights movement.

The organizers also used the Iran nuclear deal and refugee resettlement as reasons for the protests. On social media, some Americans’ concerns about the Syrian refugee crisis have been expressed through rhetoric that demonizes or dehumanizes Muslims.

The anti-Muslim demonstrations are the latest ripples in a rising tide of Islamophobia in America. They come at a time when major presidential candidates have taken aim at Muslims. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has said that Muslims should denounce the Quran to have his support. "I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam," Carson told CNN's Jake Tapper. While responding to an audience member’s disturbingly anti-Muslim question, another Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to “look into” getting rid of all Muslims in the country.

The anti-Muslim rallies also come in the wake of an intense national conversation about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim boy arrested last month for bringing a homemade clock to his ninth-grade class. On September 14, Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old student from Irving, Texas, was handcuffed, interrogated and suspended for making a homemade clock and bringing it to school to impress his teacher. And while the kid received overwhelming support from across the country, including Mark Zuckerberg and even President Barack Obama, the principal and many teachers still side with the school’s decision to handcuff the boy over a clock.

Alarmingly, though not widely reported at the national level, there have been other incidents of hostility facing Muslims and their institutions. For example, in Texas and Tennessee, demonstrations have been held outside of schools which teach Arabic or about Islam. And in Sterling Heights, Michigan, opposition to the construction of a mosque culminated in a massive protest, in which one attendee shouted “I don’t want a mosque anywhere!”

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.