Red flower pen in hand, Charlotte’s Rose Hamid spoke in Cleveland’s Public Square Monday, delivering the message she hopes to bring to a larger audience at this week’s Republican National Convention: that Islam is not a violent religion to be feared.
“It doesn’t have to be us versus them,” she told a few dozen listeners. “These terrorist groups are not following the Islamic doctrine.”
Her remarks came an hour after the head of the nation’s largest Islamic group delivered a similar message a block away. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told reporters, “We all have the same love for and commitment to America.”
But their message is likely to face skepticism from many of the delegates at a convention poised to nominate a candidate who has called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, at least from countries with a history of terrorism.
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Presumptive nominee Donald Trump’s calls to limit immigration have been applauded by many Republicans, particularly after recent attacks in Nice, France, and in Orlando, Fla. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, his prospective running mate, said this week he supports Trump’s plan, even though he once called it “offensive and unconstitutional.”
It also found support among North Carolina delegates.
“There have been no little old white-haired ladies blowing up Americans,” said delegate Jim Hastings of Boone. “Unless we can do a better job vetting, we should ban them until we get a better handle on it.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went even further after last week’s terrorist incident in France. He called for deporting everyone with a Muslim background in America who believes in Sharia law – Islamic religious law – and suggested that all mosques be monitored.
A recent McClatchy-Marist Poll found that Republican voters support a temporary ban on Muslims entering this country by 59 percent to 38 percent, while 82 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents reject a ban.
The poll also asked which was the better approach to fighting terrorism at home: more scrutiny of American Muslims, even at the expense of their civil rights, or strengthening ties with Muslim communities to enlist their support.
More than 80 percent of Democrats and two-thirds of independents backed the community outreach approach. Republicans were evenly split: 46 percent in favor of stronger ties with the Muslim community, 45 percent supporting surveillance even in violation of a person’s rights.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is among Republicans who have come out against a Muslim ban. But some Republicans saw nuance in Trump’s position.
“He’s not against Muslims; all he was trying to say is there’s a better way to vet ‘sleeper’ Muslims that can cause harm,” said Rion Choate, a Charlotte delegate and financial adviser to Middle East clients. “(Trump) didn’t say it politically correct, but that’s what he meant.”
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican and convention delegate, recently expressed concern about the effect of Trump’s statements on America’s Gulf allies. But on Monday, Pittenger said he believes Trump “has a very clear understanding of our role with the Sunni Muslims.”
“Say what you will about Trump and the Muslims,” said Pittenger, who chairs the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. “The biggest issue right now is our Arab friends and allies who think (President Barack Obama) just doesn’t get it.”
The party platform, approved Monday, calls for “special scrutiny to those foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States from terror-sponsoring countries or from regions associated with Islamic terrorism.”
Awad, of CAIR, said talk of immigration bans “runs counter to American values of inclusion.” Republicans, he said, “have been using fear to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of America.”
Hamid, a flight attendant, is president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas. Born into Catholicism, she converted when she married Imad Hamid. At a Trump rally in Rock Hill this year, she was escorted out after standing in silent protest of the candidate’s comments about Muslims.
On Monday she wore a white hijab, or head scarf, as she gave interviews and handed out flower pens for a chance for one-on-one conversations. “It’s important to stand up and say, ‘This is not who we are,’ ” she said. “We are people who want to come together and make things better.”
As she spoke, a group of protesters behind her shouted and held signs with slogans such as “Every real Muslim is a jihadist” and “Muhammed is in hell.” One wore a T-shirt that said, “Proud to be an Infidel.”
“I knew there would be people like these folks,” she said later. “I don’t know how to combat hate other than with love.”