I went to Cleveland during the Republican convention to try to connect with delegates face to face and give a positive impression about Islam and Muslims.
Our tactic was to say “Have a nice day” and hand folks a cute flower pen. While some recoiled, we didn’t take it personally because there were lots of people handing out all kinds of things and it was annoying. However, when there was a chance to explain that we were there to put a friendly face on Islam and Muslims, it was great to see positive reactions, which were usually followed by cordial conversation.
Some things we discussed included: “Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians,” “Islam is not the problem, terrorists NOT following Islam is the problem,” “Muslims are being killed by terrorists at a much higher rate than any other group,” “Muslims aren’t trying to replace the constitution with Sharia law,” “Muslims aren’t monolithic, we have a variety of political beliefs.”
I had a stirring conversation with a young Republican volunteer. She commented on how she, as a Republican, was feeling vilified by so many. She was being regarded as a racist who hated immigrants, African Americans, Muslims and the poor, which was not true of her beliefs. She felt that a small minority of Republicans were giving the rest a bad name. I said “Same with me and my faith!” We laughed, we hugged and we got teary-eyed.
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I even approached an intimidating looking group of “Bikers for Trump.” They took the pens and said things like “Thank you darlin’.” They weren’t so scary after all. And that was one of my biggest takeaways; people with diametrically opposing viewpoints can have civil discussions and work toward what’s best for our country and the world. Folks who are different are not intrinsically evil, they are not the enemy. It’s not all “us vs. them”; it’s all of us in this together. We have to stop being so afraid of others, be brave and approach someone you think is “scary”; you will probably be pleasantly surprised.
Although the majority of folks were kind and decent, there were some hateful people around. There was one particularly vile hate group holding signs shouting despicable things. A bystander commented how awful it was that we lived in such a world that would allow such things to be said out loud. But I pointed out that while there were about six people in the hate group, there were hundreds of people opposing them, chanting “Stop the hate.” We have a choice of what we focus on. It’s easier to hear and see the negative, but it takes some intention to look for the good in the world.
It’s convenient to blame the media for constantly focusing on the awful things happening all over, but we have to take responsibility for what we look for. Social media allow us to make choices of what we click on and share with others. Whether it’s on your newsfeed, or in real life, look for the good and you will find it.