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Fear, Faith and Freedom: What You and I Know about Anti-Muslim Rallies

Fear, Faith and Freedom: What You and I Know about Anti-Muslim Rallies June 2, 2015

*Ritzheimer. I mean… it just SOUNDS like a Nazi caricature. A cartoon bad guy with a swastika and a little Hitler mustache, a tiny cartoon devil at his shoulder.

But the real guy’s not a cartoon. He’s alive and real in Phoenix, and he’s drumming up an anti-Muslim following. Last week, he rallied a couple hundred of his white supremacist buddies for a “demonstration” on the steps of a local mosque. Wearing t-shirts with a message so obscene, the media has had to blur most of the words out in pictures and videos.

You KNOW you are being gross if they can’t even show your t-shirt on the INTERNET. All Hands Magazine

When I first heard this was happening, it was mostly an eye-roll moment. Some Arizona good ol’ boys who were mad somebody said they couldn’t draw a picture of Muhammed. Not that they WANTED to draw a picture of Muhammed… but you say they can’t? Then GTFout the way, because they want some stuff to happen. You’re not the boss of them.

Anyway, I was all, “oh, Arizona, you make me feel good about Kansas sometimes, so thanks…” Until I saw pictures of this gathering. And there were guns. Lots of very, very big guns. It looked like a police state. It looked like a developing country. It looked like the toxic hate and bigotry that lives in so many people’s heads, come to life on the steps of a house of prayer. And that’s exactly what it was.

I KNOW I’m preaching to the choir here. If you are reading this, you don’t need me to tell you that Islam is not ISIS. You don’t need me to tell you that showing up at an anti-Muslim rally with an assault rifle “for protection” is no more about free speech, than denying service to gay people is about religious freedom.

And I don’t have to tell you that the right to bear arms is about the freedom to protect oneself against a real and immediate threat—not engaging in heroic delusions and trying to actively CREATE a threat. I don’t have to tell you that showing up ANYwhere with a weapon of mass destruction is an intent to threaten and intimidate. You know it, and I know it. But they, apparently, do not, and so here we are still talking about it.

They don’t know that they, Ritzheimer and his lil’ clubhouse gang, are the real threat to national security.

They don’t know that they are the terrorists.

The funnest part is that this guy is now going on Fox News (of course he is) saying that he needs a kajillion dollars to fortify his house against the terrorists who are threatening his family on Twitter. (Note: terrorists are not threatening his family on Twitter). But don’t worry! If he raises more than enough to build himself a fortress, you can be assured that he will use the rest for the good of all—by launching his political career. Not making this up. Swear. Couldn’t if I tried.

Before you go out back to build your bunker, or book your passage to New Zealand for the day this guy gets elected to office, then hear first this gospel: the good people showed up too. My friend Susan Frederick-Gray is Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, and she says:

This evening, over 700 people of love and peace, faith and goodwill gathered at the Phoenix Islamic Community Center.  Together, as Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, Bahai, and more, we filled the hall with prayers for peace and understanding.  We stood together to offer a truer representation of our community, of our neighborhoods, of our Valley gathering out of a sense of solidarity and shared pain for the threatening anti-islamic protests happening at the Center.  We stood together to as witnesses to goodwill and our shared desires to live together in peace and understanding.  It was an amazing gathering of people from all over the valley, and in the room were a diversity of leaders from the progressive faith community, to GLBT organizers, to leaders in the migrant and immigrant rights struggle.  As Sheikh Mahmoud Sulaiman said as he opened the gathering, “peace and compassion are not something you just say, but something you feel in your heart and that guide your speech and your actions.” And it was that spirit that guided all of us that evening.”

Are you feeling better about humanity yet? There’s more! Susan also shared this:

“I was especially moved by the sharing from the Pastor and a lay leader from the Orangewood Church of the Nazarene, who have for many years partnered with the Mosque to feed and serve people in the community. They have broken bread together… So when the Imam called to see if they could use the church’s parking lot on Friday night, because they did not have enough space for the large crowd, the Pastor said that of course, they were welcome.  Then the church’s members and leaders came on Friday and formed a human chain around the mosque, standing in prayer and love for their neighbors as they entered to pray.”

 It’s all about showing up for our neighbors, folks.

We could rant and rave about the hate: the misguided values of personal freedom over public safety; the deluded patriotism that leads to systemic violence and bigotry… We could go on and on. Or, we can counteract it in small, accessible, profoundly human ways. We can work for interfaith dialogue in our own communities. And then we can show up for our neighbors, when they need us.

Yes, write your lawmakers. Tell them that common sense gun laws are not threatening anybody’s freedom. Vote for people who are not owned by the NRA. Do the things that will hopefully, slowly, change the way we talk about weapons and ‘freedom.’

But really, it’s all about what we do for our neighbors, when hate shows up at their door.

And you know, and I know, that it will.

Meanwhile, here are a few more stories about growth and good neighbors, coming out of the madness. Peace, y’all.

*No offense to actual Germans or folks of German descent who bear this moniker and are actual decent human beings. We know you are out there. It is an unfortunate coincidence that this guy shares your name. 

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