NEW YORK: Times Square – the city’s biggest tourist attraction – was filled choc-a-block Feb. 19 as thousands, representing different backgrounds and faiths, gathered to express solidarity with Muslims. Dubbed “Today I am a Muslim Too,” the rally was co-organized by the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding and the Nusantara Foundation in response to the uncertainty and anxiety created by Trump’s now-revoked executive order to bar citizens from the seven Muslim-majority nations.
The rally saw several faith leaders who criticized the divisive political environment in the country and called on Americans to stand up for Muslims facing increasing threat and pressure. Shabir Gul, founder of the Muslim & Immigrant Coalition for Justice described the rally as a day of solidarity in support of equality and tolerance, supporting American Muslims. “There is no greater time than now to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are under increasing threat and pressure,” Gul said.
Holding placards – several of them featuring a woman in an American flag hijab – the demonstrators echoed the caption featured on it – “We the people are greater than fear.” The meet was dubbed on social media as “a day of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters in reaction to the vicious attacks by the president.” Demonstrators held American flags and signs that said, “I am a Muslim, too,” as one activist donned a Trump costume and paraded through the crowd as a bald eagle in a cage.
Trump has made numerous disparaging remarks about Muslims and an appeals court recently put a halt to his executive order that temporarily barred all refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country, CNN reported.
Trump has since then issued new executive orders targeting the same seven Muslim-majority countries, but excluded Green Card holders and valid visa holders from the new orders.
The list of speakers was extensive, Gul said. In addition to entrepreneur and Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons, who helped organize the event, attendees heard from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, actress Susan Sarandon, rabbis, imams, a Sikh, a Buddhist, Episcopalian and Presbyterian reverends, a Mennonite, a Seventh Day Adventist minister, a Hindu, a Baptist pastor, local politicians and civil rights advocates.
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton tweeted that the rally marked her two-year-old’s first protest.
Addressing the rally, de Blasio said America was founded to respect all faiths and all beliefs and stereotypes against the Muslim community has to be dispelled.
“The message I want to give as Mayor of the city to everyone regardless of background or faith or where you were born is that this is your city and this is your country,” he said.
The Mayor said America was founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution.
“This is who we are as Americans and this must be protected. An attack on anybody’s faith is an attack on all people of faith,” he said.
“We have to dispel the stereotypes” faced by the Muslim community, de Blasio said, declaring at the end of his speech that “I’m proud to say today I’m a Muslim too”. Around 900 Muslims serve in the New York Police Department, he said.
Sikh speaker and activist Simran Jeet Singh said he is supporting the rally because as a Sikh, he said he knows what discrimination and oppression feels like.
“We want a world that is acceptable and tolerant,” he told the Press Trust of India.
“My daughter and I were honored to speak at today’s rally,” Singh tweeted after the rally. “As Sikhs, we know first-hand the pain of Islamophobia. So today, #IAmAMuslimToo.”
Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American activist and commentator Linda Sarsour noted that Feb. 19th marked the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the internment of Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans. She asked those in attendance to commit to being part of “the true never-again generation.”
(This post was revised on 2/22/2017)