Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” He is a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. He’s also the co-director of the documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Dean Obeidallah: Anti-Muslim rally in Phoenix inspired people to engage on social media
Obeidallah: If good people speak out as they did about Phoenix rally, then bigotry will lose
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
I first became aware of these powerful words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., about 20 years ago. They had a profound impact, inspiring me to speak out against hate directed at minority groups where I might have otherwise remained silent, but it was only in recent years that it seemed necessary to use them in defense of my own community.
That’s why I mentioned those words to President Obama when he met with 15 Muslim-American community leaders earlier this year. My hope there was to inspire Democrats in America to stop being silent in the face of some Republicans who are stoking the flames of hate towards the Muslim American community.
On bright side, more people have been standing with our community in recent years, from community leaders to celebrities like Ben Affleck and Russell Simmons. But what we saw this past Friday was truly remarkable.
Self-proclaimed “patriot” Jon Ritzheimer organized an anti-Islam rally outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona. Ritzheimer, a proud atheist who had served in the Marines Corps, wanted to share with Americans his view that “true Islam is terrorism,” as he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He also encouraged his supporters to bring guns to the event to ensure that no one interfered with their First Amendment rights.
Just to be clear, Ritzheimer has the right to protest and even demonize any minority group he so chooses in America. Even the leader of the Phoenix mosque that Ritzheimer targeted publicly defended his right to protest. Just as the KKK and Neo-Nazis have the right to express the bigoted “truth” about blacks and Jews, so, too, does Ritzheimer have the right to share his “truth” about Islam.
As the time for the protest approached, I wondered what the small Muslim community in Phoenix was going through. How does a parent explain to a child why there are armed, angry people outside of their place of worship screaming horrible things about their faith?
Come Friday night, there was Ritzheimer with approximately 200 supporters, many armed, screaming vile and vicious comments about Muslims. The protesters included skinheads and a man wearing a white-power T-shirt bearing Nazi imagery. It was an alarmingly ugly display of hate.
But then the “good people” stepped forward. First beginning shortly before the protest and lasting for the next few hours, the hashtag #NotmyAmerica, showing support for the Muslim community, was the number-one trending topic on Twitter. People of different backgrounds were speaking out, with tweets like:
The list went on of Tweets from people of all, or no faith, opposing the anti-Muslim hate rally. Sure there were some right wing people praising the protesters, but they were dwarfed by those opposed to bigotry.
And then outside the mosque something wonderful occurred. While the Phoenix mosque leader, Usama Shami, had not organized a counter rally, a nearby Christian church did. As Shami explained when he appeared on my SiriusXM radio show Saturday morning, almost an equal number of supporters came out to counter the protesters, primarily due to the church’s efforts. And as opposed to the hurtful words of the anti-Muslim protesters, the supporters held signs preaching love and tolerance for all Americans.
I asked Shami how did he explain what was taking place outside the mosque to his children? Shami explained that he brought his two children to the mosque Friday to show them the protesters and the supporters. Why? So they could see that in America while there is hate, there are also truly good people who stand up for others in need. He made it clear that this second group represents the best of America.
Shami is right. There will always be hate in our great nation directed at minority groups whether it’s based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. But as long as the good people who represent the best of America refuse to remain silent, they will, in time, defeat the voices of intolerance. And the sooner more good people stop being silent, the sooner we will prevail.