I attended with M, her 70+ year-old neighbor (a veteran of many civil rights protests), and L. The crowd number between 1000-2000, depending on reports, and filled a penned-in area about two blocks long. The tone of the speeches was a little too religious for my tastes, but I was happy that among those present were a rabbi, an imam, an Episcopal minister and a few other clergy. Keith Ellison, a U.S. Rep (the first Muslim) from Minnesota spoke, and a few local elected officials were present as well or sent messages. Bloomberg’s support was cited, although I’m sure he had few friends in the crowd.
The entire event was completely peaceful. I saw no counter-protesters and the police seemed relatively low key with this group of mostly white, middle-class (looking) crowd. On returning home I checked the local news for coverage; surprisingly, Fox had it on as their first story and said nothing denigrating. Of course, they didn’t show the man who stood opposite the penned-in crowd, who quietly held a sign that said. “Don’t let Fox make you afraid.”
On a personal note, I thought the organizers left too much time for the event, 2+ hours, as numbers dwindled significantly as the evening went on and the weather grew cool and windy. A few forced feeling sing-alongs were part of the evening’s agenda-- also not my cup of protest. I was glad to be in the company of like-minded people, but as M summed it up, there should have been 10,000 people there instead of our one or two.
Organizing a protest is no easy job, and perhaps a turnout of 2,000 can be deemed a success. Then again, in a city of 8 million - and so many of them with personal experience of bigotry and intolerance - maybe not.
Here are two more views on September 11th and US Islamophobia, from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
First, in "The Healers of 9/11," Kristof writes about Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, two women who lost husbands in the September 11th attacks. Both women were pregnant at the time. Now they are working together to combat hunger and illiteracy among women and girls in Afghanistan. Their organization is called Beyond the 11th.
Naturally I disagree with Kristof's characterization of Afghanistan as "the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized" these women's husbands, but that's less important than his very good column on this worthwhile organization. Perhaps most importantly, Retik's and Quigley's work highlights a simple truth: anger and hatred are not inevitable. They are choices. We can choose peace.
In "Is this America?", Kristof calls out Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, a once-progressive, now ultra-right-wing rag, for his blatant and shameful Islamophobia. Kristof gathers some evidence to show Peretz has plenty of company.
For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider a blog post in The New Republic this month. Written by Martin Peretz, the magazine’s editor in chief, it asserted: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”
Mr. Peretz added: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”
Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?
This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.
It would have been natural for this test to have come right after 9/11, but it was forestalled because President George W. Bush pushed back at his conservative ranks and repeatedly warned Americans not to confuse Al Qaeda with Islam.
Now that Mr. Bush is no longer in the White House, nativists are back on the warpath. Some opponents of President Obama are circulating bald-faced lies about him that are also scurrilous attacks on Islam itself. One e-mail bouncing around falsely accuses Mr. Obama of lying and adds, “His Muslim faith says it’s okay to lie.”
Or there’s the e-mail I received the other day from a relative, declaring: “President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to remember and honor the Eid Muslim holiday season with a new commemorative 44 cent first class holiday postage stamp.” In fact, it was President Bush’s administration that first issued the Eid stamp in 2001 and that issued new versions after that.
Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 percent of Republicans believe that it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” So a majority of Republicans think that our president wants to impose Islamic law worldwide.
That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis.
Newsweek quoted a Taliban operative, Zabihullah, about opposition to the mosque near ground zero: “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations and popular support.” Mr. Zabihullah added, “The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get.”
In America, bigoted comments about Islam often seem to come from people who have never visited a mosque and know few if any Muslims. In their ignorance, they mirror the anti-Semitism that I hear in Muslim countries from people who have never met a Jew.
One American university professor wrote to me that “every Muslim in the world” believes that the proposed Manhattan Islamic center would symbolize triumph over America. That reminded me of Pakistanis who used to tell me that “every Jew” knew of 9/11 in advance, so that none died in the World Trade Center.
It is perfectly reasonable for critics to point to the shortcomings of Islam or any other religion. There should be more outrage, for example, about the mistreatment of women in many Islamic countries, or the oppression of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan.
Europe is alarmed that Muslim immigrants have not assimilated well, resulting in tolerance of intolerance, and pockets of wife-beating, forced marriage, homophobia and female genital mutilation. Those are legitimate concerns, but sweeping denunciations of any religious group constitute dangerous bigotry.
If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colors. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.
Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denounced what they called “the anti-Muslim frenzy.”
“We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “It cannot happen here in America in 2010.”
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: “This is not America. America was not built on hate.”
“Shame on you,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. “You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”
Excuse me, Cardinal McCarrick. You might want to check your history books. I believe you'll find that's exactly what America was built on.