Anti-Muslim extremist organization "ACT for America!" held rallies across the United States this past weekend, including in my hometown of Syracuse. These events don't represent the values we hold in the United States of religious pluralism and diversity.
I was heartened to see that while the Syracuse rally has a few dozen participants who've RSVPed to date, counter rallies working against anti-Muslim actions garnered much more support.
Syracuse and many cities where these marches were held are increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, and multicultural cities. I am thankful that so many people across the nation defending the values their cities hold dear. I know that Syracuse has been strengthened by the variety of people who live and work together. We are known for being place of welcome, for our thriving communities of faith and culture that make us unique.
The March Against Sharia set up a false premise – that Americans are in danger of sharia law invading US law and policies – and uses this premise to incite fear and hate towards Muslims. These claims are untrue – no such actions could or are in any danger of taking place. But these wild claims have the intended result of increasing panic and mistrust of the other. ACT for America, the event sponsor, paints Islam with a broad brush, insisting that extremism is at the heart of mainstream Muslim religious life. ACT for America serves to rouse up suspicion of Muslim people, puts mosques and Islamic communities at risks, and creates a culture of intolerance and exclusion that is in stark contrast to our heritage of religious freedom.
Recent months have seen Americans coming together to protest, to resist, to act in the face of threats from the Trump administration of banning immigrants from Muslim-majority nations. People around the nation, supported by the action of our justice system, have said, "This is not us." We know that our nation was built on a commitment to the free exercise of our religious values.
People from so many different traditions came here seeking freedom from oppression, freedom from persecution, freedom to practice their faith in peace, without fear of reprisal. What a betrayal of our core values it would be for us to let go of a defining value when applying it to others! We are stronger when we learn from each other, stronger when we support each other, stronger when we stand united against hatred and injustice. ACT for America is a misnomer. There is nothing about this group or its anti-Muslim actions that are for America. Groups like this will only tear us down, divide, and harm.
For a few years, I lived down the street from the Islamic Society of Central New York in Syracuse. When special celebrations resulted in a high level of traffic near the center, I would receive a basket of fruit and a note from the Society, apologizing for any inconvenience I might experience. I assume my neighbors received the same. What an act of kindness, of hospitality, of being good neighbors. I hope we can all be such good neighbors. I believe acts of building relationships, rather than building walls between each other, are what will lead to peace.