New Yorkers Boldly Challenge Refugee Ban by Saying 'I Am Muslim, Too'
"A ban on one of us is a ban on all of us."
New Yorkers of all backgrounds came out to support Muslims and challenge xenophobia on Sunday afternoon for the "Today, I Am Muslim, Too, Rally" in Times Square.
It was an unusually warm winter day as hundreds of people lofted signs of solidarity, chanted about democracy and how love trumps hate, and listened to a lineup of interfaith preachers and social justice activists.
"People who fight for their own rights are only as honorable as when they fight for the rights of all people," said Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, the rabbinic director of The Jewish Board, at the start of the rally. "Political, religious, ethnic leaders, men and women from all walks of life, standing in solidarity with the American Muslim community proclaiming today, 'I am a Muslim, too.'"
All throughout the event, the regular rush of tourists, shoppers, and workers coursed around the large gathering and stopped to listen to what was a hopeful and unifying message.
"No matter what your nationality, race, or religion, we all have just one planet to share," said Global Citizen co-founder Simon Moss as he addressed the crowd. "And our biggest challenges — from poverty to conflict and terrorism, climate change to inequality — can only be overcome by working together. "
In the cultural background, however, were a series of grim and demoralizing developments — the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual hate crime report documenting an explosion of anti-Muslim abuse in the US, a massacre at a mosque in Quebec, and US President Donald Trump's blocked executive order targeting Muslims, to name a few.
While the rally was conceived in response to the president's executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees, the speakers refused to define the day in contrast to his administration's anti-Muslim rhetoric by sparring with him.
Russel Simmons, a proud global citizen who hosted the event, described this choice early on.
"We are here to revive all of America, so we won't speak too harshly of [Trump] tonight," Simmons said. "We want to thank him for bringing us together."
"We are here today to show America our beautiful signs, and through our beautiful actions and intentions that they have been misled," he said. "We're here to make the change, to promote unity, to recognize our beautiful brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith."
Actor and political activist Susan Sarandon added to this message: "We are standing here at this moment in history when it is no longer possible to be neutral. If you are silent, then you are complicit. We will fight hatred with love, we will fight bigotry with inclusivity and I, today, am a Muslim, too."
Linda Sarsour, the political activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, took to the stage with her signature force. She reminded the audience of one of the darker chapters in US history as a warning of what can happen if people stay mute in the face of injustice.
"I am unapologetically Muslim all day every day," she said as the protest roared with support.
"Sisters and brothers, today is the 75th anniversary of executive order 9066, signed by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that began the internment of our Japanese American sisters and brothers. I ask you, my fellow New Yorkers, that you commit to being part of the true, never-again generation. That we as New Yorkers will not allow for our Muslim sisters and brothers, for our indigenous sisters and brothers, for our Jewish sisters and brothers, for our black sisters and brothers, for our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers, to see horrfic things that we saw in our past happen today. Not on our watch!"
The crowd was inspired and reassured by the brave lineup of speakers, but nobody was lulled into complacency. Standing up to bigotry is not a one-time, weekend affair. It's an ongoing, relentless struggle. Throughout the weeks and months ahead, crowds will continue to gather and rally, to promote peace and unity, tolerance and freedom, hope and justice.
Because as the civil rights attorney Sanford Rubenstein said at the rally, "a ban on one of us is a ban on all of us."