As a Muslim who went to Cleveland during the Republican National Convention in 2016, I think Charlotte should continue to pursue its bid to host the convention in 2020.
My decision to go to Cleveland stemmed from my experience at a Trump rally in January 2016. I had attended the rally with a group of people to stand in silent protest against the use of hate speech and we were made to leave. However, while waiting for the rally to begin, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive interactions I had with Trump supporters.
I sought to find more opportunities to interact with Trump supporters and others who may not know any Muslims. I decided to go to Cleveland to engage with convention attendees, hoping to create a positive image of Islam and Muslims. To that end, as a way to start a conversation, we walked up to people, said “Have a nice day”, and handed them flower pens which we’d inscribed with the website www.SalamIComeInPeace.love
(a website I created as a resource for frequently asked questions about Islam).
We were able to connect with people one on one and have respectful dialogues. I left the convention optimistic that we’d made a difference with those we’d interacted with. The violence that was feared did not materialize and I hoped that after the election, people would be able to see past their differences and focus on the issues at hand.
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Unfortunately, since the election, I have become disheartened by the degradation of public discourse. The attacks, on so many fronts, have been relentless.
I’ve heard many people say things like “There is just no point in speaking to people who (fill in the blank)”. Not speaking to each other has left us with people yelling at and vilifying each other while refusing to listen to what others have to say. People are afraid to talk to, let alone agree with, anyone from the “other side.”
Recently the debate about Charlotte hosting the Republican National Convention has become yet another divisive issue. Many suggest the city should rescind its offer to host the RNC because we don’t want “those people” in our city.
But 33 percent of Mecklenburg County and 50 percent of North Carolina voted for Trump.
“Those people” are here. “They” are part of “Us”. And we have consistently expressed a desire to cut through the divisiveness and work together for the betterment of our community and our nation. Maybe we need opportunities to have listening sessions, in safe spaces, where people can speak their truth without being vilified.
Having the RNC in Charlotte could be the catalyst needed to work toward becoming a more cohesive community.
Whether we get the convention or not, Charlotte should start now to lay the foundation of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. Then, if we do get the convention, we can lead the way in effective public discourse.