On Saturday June 10, 400 demonstrators gathered in Manhattan to counter-protest a rally being held by a right-wing group who say Sharia is incompatible with Western democracy.
The anti-Sharia protests were organized by ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim group in the country, and took place in more than two dozen cities, including New York.
Several hundred pro-Muslim demonstrators showed up in Foley Square with whistles, drums, klaxons and musical instruments in a bid to drown out the words of the anti-Muslim speakers across the street.
Chants included: “We are many, you are few” and “Fascists out, Muslims in”.
The NYC Loves Muslims rally was organized by grassroots activist groups Muslims Are Welcome Here, the Council on American-Islamic Relations New York and the New York Immigration Coalition, with turnout driven by dozens more, including Black Lives Matter.
It was intended to prove that “the opposite of hatred isn’t tolerance, it’s love,” as organizers said before the event.
“New Yorkers of every faith, race, and background will come together to showcase our city’s unshakable commitment to pluralism, highlighting the best of who we are and what we believe. At this troubling moment, when the voices of hate are growing stronger, New Yorkers will not stay silent,” they added.
The NYC Jewish Solidarity Committee, one of the coalition members also condemned the March Against Sharia, as “nothing but a pretense used to spread fear and hate”.
Organizers worked hard to ensure the event passed peacefully, working closely with the NYPD as well as appointed marshals and legal observers.
When I arrived at Foley Square, the noise was deafening. But more notably, the efforts on both sides to drown each other out seemed like a sad metaphor for the current state of American discourse.
There was no effort made to open a dialogue, to talk to the man with the “save our woman and children” protest sign across the street and ask why he was so scared for them, or the elderly woman with the “re-elect Trump in 2020” sign – which wins the award for the most out-of-touch protest sign I’ve ever seen.
Yes, perhaps the anti-Sharia protesters of ACT for America would not be open to a discussion, and attempts to engage them futile. But there are vast numbers of people whose fears about Muslims have been stoked by Donald Trump, the right wing media, and non-governmental bodies like ACT for America.
It is our job on the left to take the first step, listen to their fears, and demonstrate how Islam is not the enemy of America that it is portrayed to be.
Otherwise, where do we go from here?