Editor’s Note: Last weekend, a conference in Garland, TX entitled “Stand With the Prophet Against Terror and Hate,” (organized by the Chicago-based Islamic multimedia foundation Sound Vision) became the scene of anti-Islam protests organized by Pamela Geller. To counteract the negative protests, a group of citizens organized their own rally, entitled “One Love.” This is the first person account of that rally from one of the organizers.
Muslims and non-Muslims demonstrating at the “One Love” rally in Garland, TX on Saturday, Jan. 17.
The “One Love” rally this weekend in Garland was about several things, but most importantly it was about Muslims refusing to let the corporate-run media write our story. Like many of the organizers and attendees, I became involved with the rally because I’m tired of the beautiful Islam I know (and adopted as my faith four years ago) being characterized as something evil by the media. So we gathered. With minimal notice, a coalition of Muslims, interfaith allies, and social activists shut down a message of fear and hate. Despite being outnumbered, we held our ground. The usual cast of Islamophobic characters was in attendance. Pamela Gellar, Robert Spencer, and even a representative of Bill O’Reilly’s show were at the event. By mid-afternoon, the north parking lot of the Curtis Culwell Center was swarming with people brandishing derogatory signs and shouting vulgar chants that condemned Islam. They claimed to be angry that an Islamic event was being held in a school district-owned building. They also claimed that several of the speakers were radicals.
However, this was not the first religious themed event held at the convention center, and the speakers in question at the event have been past guests at conferences in the Dallas area. The truth is that a majority of the protesters had no idea why they were there and did not care to learn more. They were not there to protest a specific event. They were there to protest Islam. That intolerance was also apparent from the frenzy of hate speech and threats that saturated social media in the weeks leading up to the event. Many protesters threatened to bring weapons as an intimidation tactic. At least one went so far as to say that he was going to dynamite the building.
Despite all of that, in the west parking lot directly facing the swarm of protesters, we formed a small, but defiant counter-protest formed in response. Our diverse group rallied under a message of unity and tolerance that refused to submit to the opposition’s fear tactics.
We handed out flowers, and heart balloons to the protesters in an attempt to build bridges. We also made a point to condemn the actions of the violent militants who have managed to highjack our religion.
One of the more beautiful moments came when a group of non-muslim supporters encircled the Muslims arm in arm to protect them while they prayed. Seeing the calm on their faces as they prayed made it possible for a moment to forget the megaphones hurling obscenities, and the motorcycle gangs revving their engines in an attempt to disrupt them.
By the end of the night, it was clear to anyone watching that the “One Love” rally had lived up to the aspirations of its name. We collectively put together a peaceful counter-demonstration that diffused the much larger and better-funded opposition’s message. We made a difference.
It was clear, at least this time, that Muslims would not let the media’s caricature of themselves define them. By following the Prophet’s (P.B.U.H) example, we took back the ability to write that narrative for ourselves.