SHAFAQNA – The anti-Islam rally outside a phoenix mosque on Friday, May 29, was met by counter demonstration in which some protesters shouted “Go home, Nazis,” while others chanted “Love your neighbor.”
Friday’s event is part of “an epidemic of anti-Islamic sentiment” that goes beyond protesting against extremism, Imraan Siddiqi of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told Reuters on Saturday, May 30.
“Don’t mistake that, they’re not saying they want to rid America of radical Islam, they are saying they want to rid America of Islam.”
About 200 armed bikers gathered on Friday to attend the draw Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) cartoon event outside Islamic Community Center of Phoenix that was organized by Jon Ritzheimer, an Iraq war veteran.
Called “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II“, the armed rally came in “response to the recent attack in Texas where 2 armed terrorist [sic], with ties to the so-called Islamic State (ISIL), attempted Jihad,” the bikers group said.
Earlier this month, two gunmen were shot dead by police after attacking a similar draw Muhammad event in Garland, Texas.
“This Islamic Community Center is a known place that the 2 terrorist frequented,” the Facebook invitation of the event read.
Moreover, participants were urged to take full advantage of the Second Amendment right to carry weapons during the rally.
The anti-Islam protest has prompted heavy security presence in the mosque area where Officers with riot helmets and gas masks formed a cordon for several blocks, according to Reuters.
Rival protesters sparring about Islam were kept far apart from each other by phoenix police. No arrests were made.
While some Islamophobic protesters called Islam a “religion of murderers”, others raised offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
With the recent murder of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,the burning of an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas, which authorities ruled as arson, and the numerous reports of personal harassment, Muslims feel they are targeted in the States.
Voicing opposition against the islamophobic event, interfaith advocates launched an online campaign, #NotMyAmerica, to respond to mosque protests with a message of inclusion.
#NotMyAmerica campaign was an effort “to drown out the abhorrent comments and supporters of the armed protesters,” Linda Sarsour, senior strategist for Take On Hate, told the Huffington Post.
“In our America, freedom of speech should not be used to trump freedom of religion,” she told The Huffington Post. “All Americans have the right to worship free of fear and intimidation.”
Created by the Take On Hate campaign, which works to challenge misconceptions of Muslims and Arab Americans, the hashtags, #NotMyAmerica and #PHxMosque, have been trending with dozens of message of support since their launch.
“I’m not Muslim, but I know Islam means kindness & compassion, not terrorism, # NotMyAmerica #PHxMosque,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another one posted: “Cannot fathom showing up for shabbat greeted by armed thugs. Solidarity with the Muslim community on a very frightening day. #NotMyAmerica,” CNN reported.
The counter campaign has been backed by several interfaith organizations as an opportunity to show solidarity.
“It’s exactly acts like this that we pray don’t happen, and when they do we have a responsibility to speak out against it,” said Sheryl Olitzky, the founder of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that builds bridges between Muslim and Jewish women.
“We believe in speaking out and taking action, but doing it in a peaceful and positive way, as quickly as possible.”
On the other hand, the hashtag has drawn negative reactions from some users.
“Muslims line up Christians & behead them but GOD FORBID some bikers stand outside a mosque. The horror! #NotMyAmerica,” a Twitter user wrote.
Since the 9/11 attacks, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have complained of discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
An Economist/YouGov poll found that a large majority of Americans believe that US Muslims are victims of discrimination amid recent attacks against the community