‘Anti-Muslim’ rallies to be held across America
Sharp criticism from civil rights groups and counter-protests nationwide planned
People hold signs critical of the religion of Islam as part of an Alt Right protest of Muslim activist Linda Sarsour last April in New York City. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
A wave of anti-Muslim rallies will sweep nearly 30 cities across America on Saturday, in a move by far-right activists that has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights groups and inspired counter-protests nationwide.
The so-called “anti-Sharia” rallies have been organised by “Act For America”, which claims to be protesting human rights violations, but has been deemed an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The planned demonstrations prompted security fears at mosques across the country and come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise.
A coalition of 129 national and local organisations amplified concerns on Friday in a letter urging mayors to denounce the marches, which also coincide with Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during the daylight hours.
At least one planned rally was cancelled in Portland, Oregon, where two men were fatally stabbed last month while defending two Muslim women from a man who taunted them with racial slurs.
“We are deeply concerned about the type of message that these protests send to the American public and to the good people in your city – that it is acceptable to vilify people simply because of their faith,” the groups wrote in their letter to 29 mayors.
“We, the undersigned national and local civil rights, faith-based, and community organizations, ask that you use your voice as an elected representative of your city to reject bigotry.”
At least some elected officials condemned the rallies, which they argued would promote fear and hatred under the guise of free speech.
“We need to remember that we’re strong when we’re united,” said the US representative Debbie Dingell, a Democrat who hails from Dearborn, Michigan, where roughly 40 per cent of the residents are Muslim.
“They will not win, they will not divide this country and they will be total failures on Saturday,” Dingell said on Capitol Hill, “because we will be united against that hatred.”
Concerns within the Muslim American community have risen since the election of Donald Trump, whose campaign routinely drew upon Islamophobic comments. The president pledged to ban Muslims from entering the US, falsely claimed Muslims celebrated on the roofs of New Jersey on 9/11 and suggested Barack Obama sympathised with extremists.
The FBI has documented a surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent years, reporting a 67 per cent spike between 2014 and 2015 of incidents motivated by bias against Muslims, Arabs, South Asian and other immigrant communities.
In some cities, hundreds of protesters will take to the streets to counteract the anti-Muslim marches. One such event is the “Fasting 5K”, a marathon to take place in 10 major US cities and Toronto.
The grassroots event, which raises money for charity targeting civic engagement among Muslim youth, was not initially planned in response to the anti-Muslim rallies. But it has taken on new meaning to its participants, according to the group’s founder, Farhaan Razi.
“While this Islamophobia is going on around the country, we can highlight the positive side of how Muslim Americans are supporting and being active members of their communities to counter that narrative,” Razi said. “We looked at it as an opportunity.”
– Guardian Service