Two faded blue jeans and four heavy paws moved quickly toward a dark-skinned couple walking back to their car—purportedly Muslims. The owner of the fast legs and a quicker mouth spewed hate as he got within 20 feet of the couple, saying that they should die and telling them not to get close to him, even as he advanced.
On Jan. 17, an Islamic conference, “Defend the Prophet” was held at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland with the objective of improving relations between Muslim-Americans and the rest of America. All along the perimeter of a police barricade, more people like this man with his furry friend, a minority within the American demographic, gathered outside to protest the spreading of radical ideology. Not that many moderate counter-protesters did.
I had just showed up at around 7 p.m. to defend the ideas of free speech, peaceable assembly and freedom of religion for everyone in our community, including Muslims.
The couple that was walking to their car passed to my left, and the dozen or so men and women holding American flags turned their attention to me.
“You should be deported,” one of them said to me, an American of Indian heritage and a Mesquite, Texas native. I don’t think he expected me to fire back with, “Dude, I’m Catholic! F*** off!” which caused his friend to laugh. This wasn’t the only time during that night that my brown skin and short beard were equated with being a Muslim.
Like most protesters, I was and remain ignorant. I wasn’t even sure what the conference was named or if, as some protesters asserted, an imam in attendance had ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
A man — his curious, sunburned face under a black Stetson made his way toward me accompanied by a middle-aged woman.
I brought up the fact that pilgrims arrived on this continent to obtain religious freedom—never mind the fact that they soon outlawed religions other than theirs; it was a plea to his American ethos.
“But they also wanted to get away from the queen.”
“It was a king, actually.”
“Well, she probably put him up to it.”
Looking at the cars in the parking lot, I wondered aloud if a Muslim-American child who had no say in coming to this conference would feel ostracized or welcome in this country.
A white-skinned, white-haired man wearing a sport coat approached the three of us and started to ask what I thought about “sure-eye-uh” law and whether or not Muslims in America should be allowed to flaunt the sovereignty of the government in favor of Sharia law. He brought up female genital mutilation a few times to make sure that I understood his belief that Muslim ideology is medieval at best. Most importantly, he asked if I believed that Muslim ideology should be allowed to spread within America.
Of course, I’m for free speech, whether or not that means standing up for Jews, Episcopalians, Westboro Baptist Church, a group of Satanists or bicycle-riding Mormons. Disgusted, he said I was no true Catholic and furthermore no true Christian before walking off, unaware that that the two terms can be used synonymously.
Jesse Watters, an O’Reilly Factor correspondent who was barred from the conference, interviewed a woman who said she didn’t want Sharia law in America.
UTD students who were members of Aleef Laam Meem got in the camera’s shot and held up satirical signs saying things like “Go back to your country, but leave your kabobs.”
The woman being interviewed said she loves Muslims, but not the things they do, which sounds similar to another message of intolerance used by those against marriage equality. She and Watters both complained that the conference was not open to outsiders, making it inherently suspicious.
White and black smoke are the only things keeping these people placated at papal conclaves.
The last person I talked to was a woman who wasn’t there to protest or counter-protest; instead, she handed out silicone wristbands with “sin-aphobe” and “hell-aphobe” written on them and told me about Jesus, then proceeded to tell me she wasn’t afraid of hell.
She talked about the “no-go zones” in France where Muslims would harass non-Muslims. Unfortunately, this was a false report that aired on Fox News last week, which issued an apology the next day. Finally, feeling agoraphobic and a bit cold in my sweatshirt, I started walking back to my car. This time the aggressive group guarding the parking lot kept quiet, and I felt glad that I had come to the protest.
What brought me to the protests was that this manifestation of hate and intolerance was brewing in my backyard. I teach in Richardson ISD, and my students will graduate from this same convention center.
My students identify as white, black, Latino, Korean, Vietnamese, eastern European and “I don’t know.” They run the gamut of beliefs and disbeliefs. I’m glad to be able to teach the world and learn from it, and I’m glad that I got to defend my Muslim friends and students, who may not have felt safe at the protest.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
About the author
Finny Philip graduated from UTD in 2013 and currently works as a biology teacher in Richardson ISD. He is reaching out from Earth to space, serving all the human race.