Yesterday demonstrators and counter-demonstrators met in front of a Phoenix mosque in what the Arizona Republic called a clash of First Amendment rights; freedom of speech against freedom of religion.
The protest was organized by Jon Ritzheimer, who called it a patriotic sign of resistance against what he deemed the tyranny of Islam in America. He also encouragedparticipants to bring guns in the Facebook invite as a precautionary measure. Some brought two or three firearms, from pistols and revolvers to shotguns and assault rifles. Ritzheimer carried a 9mm Glock 26.
Usama Shami, president of the Islamic center, said he was not surprised by the event.
“This is not new. Hatred, bigotry, racism — that’s old. It’s the same thing,” he said. “No different from Nazis or neo-Nazis. They don’t believe society should be multicultural or multiethnic. They think everyone should believe like them, I guess.”
Muslim leaders in Arizona questioned the motive of the protest at a press conference Friday morning.
“If you do these acts in the name of America, you shame America just as those who do violent acts in the name of Islam shame Islam,” said Dr. Yasir Shareef, a Phoenix neurologist who attends a mosque in Scottsdale. “We have to counter hate with love or the haters will win.”
Altogether, about 500 demonstrators and counter-demonstrators gathered. They were separated by police barricades and dozens of officers on opposite sides of the street in front of the mosque. Despite the tensions and potential for violence, the event was peaceful. In the midst of it all it appears as though some real dialogue took place as well.
In a pocket of calm, Paul Griffin, wearing a T-shirt with an expletive aimed at Islam, spoke across a fence with a Muslim man.
“These are fellow Americans over here, and they’re practicing their religion as they should be allowed, as we’re all allowed,” Griffin said after the conversation. “We are protesting for the same right. We’re here for their right to protest, too. And if we don’t talk to each other, this never gets any better.”
The Muslim man, who would identify himself only as Mateo, explained their conversation. “At the end of the day, everybody wants to be heard, but nobody wants to listen,” he said. “We were just dialoguing back and forth about perspective. He’s entitled to his perspective.”
And according to the Washington Post, at least one of the protesters accepted an invitation to join in Friday prayers;
Jason Leger, a Phoenix resident wearing one of the profanity-laced shirts, accepted an invitation to join the evening prayer inside the mosque, and said the experience changed him.
“It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger said. “They made me feel welcome, you know. I just think everybody’s points are getting misconstrued, saying things out of emotion, saying things they don’t believe.”
And according the Arizona Republic further events aimed at countering the demonstration are planned;
Events to counter the protest are scheduled throughout the next several days, including a forum today held by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, which leads an initiative to fight terrorism. A forum hosted by a coalition of religious and community organizations will be held at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix on Monday to promote a message of unity.
posted by Jon White
Photo: Michael Schennum/The Republic