Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. People perceived to be Muslim have been shot at, assaulted and threatened. Mosques have been the target of hate crimes and arson. One site lists 19 such attacks in the last week. And so hundreds of Rhode Islanders representing many different races and faiths (and no faith) gathered in Kennedy Plaza to reject hate and fear and embrace freedom, peace and human rights.
The rally in Providence was a chance to stand against terror.
Recent events in San Bernardino and Paris have been used by the Republican presidential candidate front runner Donald Trump as a way to foment fear and bigotry. Parallels have been drawn, without irony or exaggeration, to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s.
At the rally, Imam Farid Ansari quoted German pastor Martin Niemöller, who famously said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Here in Rhode Island, a line against the horrors of the past has been drawn. So on the same day that the far right parties in France were routed by voters turning out in force to clearly reject of the politics of fascism and fear, Rhode Islanders came together to support and defend our Muslim neighbors. Hundreds of people crowded Kennedy Plaza to say, unequivocally:
“Not here and never again.”
To be present at this rally, to watch the children play, to see the people smile and laugh together, to hear one speaker after another call for compassion, reason and courage in the face of the murderous ideologies of ISIS and to call for an end to hate speech was to see Rhode Island at its best.
Our state is the cradle of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, and on this day we honored that legacy.
I can’t recall a time that I have felt more proud of my state.
The event was organized by the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement, (RICMA) the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Board of Rabbis of Greater RI, MAE organization for the Homeless, the Refugee Dream Center of RI, PAKPAC, and the Association of Pakistani Physicians of RI (APPRI).