Standing With The (Wrong) Prophet

In late January, 2015, in Dallas, Texas, Muslims held a conference called “Stand With The Prophet” because, according to social media posts, “Islamophobia is turning our neighbors against us.”

Over the noise of honking cars driving by and the man on the megaphone — “Please do not commit your children’s souls to hell. Turn to Jesus Christ, the son of god almighty” — and the revving of motorcycle engines and the purr of pickup trucks draped in the flag of Israel and American flags dripping from the protesters bodies: over all this, the handmade signs screamed louder:

YOU ARE NOT AMERICAN DON’T FLY OUR FLAGS

MY FREEDOM OF SPEECH TRUMPS islam

AMERICANS AGAINST ISLAM / #ARRESTOBAMA NOW!

WANT SHARIA LAW = MOVE TO THE MIDDLE EAST

WELCOME TO GARLAND ISD’S ISIS RECRUITMENT DAY!

Jill Besha, on left, from Garland: “I was raised Christian but I didn’t stay Christian my whole life, like exactly, I had to figure some things out and then I realized the teachings were true because god himself revealed to me and helped me the time that no one was around, no church, no Momma, nobody, and he helped me and he talked to me and from that point on I’ve seen so many miracles, so many wonderful miracles, really wonderful thing. I don’t hate those people I feel sorry for them! They’re going to hell!”

I asked Eric Pattison, holding “DON’T BEHEAD ME BRO!!” above, a couple questions: “Why are you here tonight, sir?/To protest this meeting./And what kind of meeting is it?/Stand with the Prophet. A muslim get together./Some kind of ceremony?/There’s several key speakers and they’re coming to talk about Mohammad and how the media portrays them and I just want tostand against, what, you know, I don’t believe — this was a Christian nation founded on Christian principles and with what’s going on with Paris and all those types of things I just want to make sure that our voices are heard, that we really don’t want this type of thing going on here.”

A man with a megaphone: “How could any man be born of a virgin unless it was ordained by god the father? Mohammad was not born of a virgin. We need to talk about Israel. They have nukes and they are not afraid to use them. Israel belongs to the Jews. It was given to them by god.” Standing there, holding in the sickness in my gut after hearing the same thing from each person I interviewed, I saw two teenage girls in hijab “running the gauntlet” as it were, passing me and the megaphone man to walk across the street under the protection of police. Suddenly those were my two teenage daughters, two scared American girls heckled and jeered at for their faith or, who knows, perhaps only the faith of their family.

Cory, who wouldn’t give his last name, from Garland: “I’m here standing for freedom. Number one, I’m a Christian, I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and I’m standing against this radicalism. I pay taxes in the city of Garland and I’m very upset at Garland for allowing this to happen.”

Earlier: a Muslim man is attempting to leave the parking lot when his car is surrounded by protesters: something is thrown in front of his front left tire. Brakes squealing, a woman in hijab rushes to retrieve whatever was thrown and, seeing a man standing in her way, shoves him. He pulled out a knife and Ramon Mejia — leader of the One Love counter protest — and several others jump in between the knife and the girl. No nails under the car; just a piece of paper — the latest Charlie Hebdo cover, a caricature of theProphet, apparently thrown there so it would be crushed by the car — a sick bit of irony, maybe. / This is what Ramon told me on the phone the next day as the only example of violence at the protest. Ramon was raised Catholic but serving in Iraq changed him: “I was taught leading up to the war that these were our enemy. There was a particular moment when I was in Baghdad; it was night and there was a fear that we were going to be attacked and we were gonna be overrun and I stayed up awake and made sure that we were all secure. It was right before sunrise that I heard the call to prayer. When I heard it, I didn’t understand what the words were but it was this somber feeling, this idea, like it was peaceful for even just a second.” He came home and, later, converted to Islam. “There are very clear similarities to Mexican and Islamic immigrants — while we don’t speak the same language or have the same religion we do have the same culture and family values. My father, being an immigrant from Mexico, growing up I saw him being made fun of or talked negatively about or being told ‘speak English! You’re in this country now!’ I heard him being told very gruesome, very nasty things when I was young … last night I was wearing my shirt, ‘Iraq War Veterans Against the War’ and people are telling me that I’m a traitor, that I deserve to get my head cut off. Those are the similarities I see, hatred for the unknown immigrant, or the immigrants that are here to intrude on American values and the American way of life.”

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By the time I arrived at the protest the crowds were half of their peak and most of the Muslim conference attendees had gone inside — but not all. I ran into Ali Mahmoud and several of his fellow ALM members: if you’re not familiar, Ali started the first Muslim fraternity in the U.S., Alif Laam Meem, their name a play on a well-known verse from the Quran. I interviewed Ali months ago for a story I’m working on; Dylan Hollingsworth is also working on a documentary about the group. Here’s what Sharq M. had to say. // Can you tell me why you’re here today? /Yeh, we’re just here protesting man, enjoying the protest, just trying to put some humor in here and, uh, just making some jokes about what’s being said. / What does your sign say? / ‘The Cowboys lost because the refs are Muslims’, so for the most part the reactions have been pretty good, over there though it’s kind of hardcore, somebody got pissed off but hey, we’re trying to have a good time. /What are you protesting exactly? / Actually I’m not protesting anything, I’m just trying to inject some conic relief, the tenseness that’s happening here right now. /And what’s going on in the event? / So this event, theyr’e combatting — it’s a conference and they want to combat extremism, terrorism, you know all that stuff that happened in Paris, they’re trying to find a way to go against that and make sure this stuff doesn’t happen. It’s kind of weird that we’re having this protest when it’s an event that’s trying to combat terrorism so what, are these people here protesting our safety? What’s going on?

“Israel” was everywhere at the protest. The idea of it — God’s country, Jerusalem, Israelites, the end of wandering, the beginning of wisdom. The Old Testament, too — beheadings, King of Kings, prophets, “unclean,” sacrifice. Words & ideas, bandied about across handmade signs drawn on poster board and surfacing in the conversations here and there among the believers. Israel 2015 was here, its flag — decorating pickup trucks or used as a cape — its claim in the Holy Land — our claim, America’s claim — its nuclear weapons mentioned several times as a threat of God’s omnipresent, omnipotent justice — Justice! Justice was what we were here for — I, like it or not, was included. My expressionless, white face as I interviewed them was enough — I was an Israelite too. Maybe it was apparent that, growing up, my evangelical mother wore a gold Star of David with a 6-carat diamond embedded in the middle of it on a chain around her neck. Maybe they knew I was raised on Leon Uris, that, growing up, “Palestinian” was a dirty word in my evangelical circles (a made up word even), that my parents visited the Holy Land and came home with a picture of them with Yitzhak Shamir.

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Later, as the protest was dying down, the only shouts came from the woman in the center of the photo below — “Muslim = terrorism! No sharia law! Muslim = terrorism! No sharia law!” She was part of a group of about 20 who’d surrounded a woman in hijab; the conversation was polite & restrained although, being claustrophobic, the thought of being surrounded by even a polite crowd was too much for me. The yelling woman was a mechanical wind-up toy, her irregular shouts like a fist pumping the sky. Power, seemingly. Fear, maybe.