Report from UUC’s Solidarity with Muslim Communities Group

Tides and Currents: How an anti-Muslim threat prompted overwhelming response (October, 2019)

Every once in a while, in the incessant coverage of hate crimes and intolerance, we find ourselves in the midst of a larger current. This current rises slowly, like the ocean’s swell. But within it are the countless citizen activists who, one by one, or group by group, or congregation by congregation, have decided to put themselves in the path of bigotry, if not to stop it in its tracks, at least to lessen its impact. To be visible witnesses and agents of inclusion, welcome, and solidarity. And when you find yourself in the midst of it, you regain reason to hope that this current might be the leading edge of a change in the tide.

Such an opportunity arose on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), in Redmond, was hosting a speaker that evening, activist Linda Sarsour. The event was titled “Build Legal Power for American Muslims” and featured other speakers as well.

Sarsour, an American born in New York City of Palestinian immigrant parents, is known as an outspoken advocate for women, Black Lives Matter, fair immigration policy, and as a critic of police brutality and mass incarceration. She was one of the organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has also drawn criticism for her advocacy of Palestinian rights in the Israeli-occupied territories, including support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. That stance got her tagged with an anti-Semitic label, even though she agrees with Israel’s right to exist, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders, and rejects affiliation with groups like Hamas.

Any one of those stances could have drawn the attention of local right-wing online activity. MAPS became aware of social media chatter urging followers of groups like the Proud Boys to show up for a mass action against the mosque. MAPS passed that information on to a regional network of interfaith allies. Reverend Beth is on that list, and alerted a group of UUC members who are part of our Solidarity with Muslim Communities group. The Solidarity group has spent the last three years building relationships with local Muslim congregations and educating ourselves on appropriate ally-ship responses.

Several of us got to MAPS an hour before the event. People from the mosque greeted us with warmth, offering cookies and access to rest rooms. We joined about 50 people already gathered. Trained peacekeepers were on hand with instructions. The plan was to spread ourselves along the sidewalk in front of the mosque with signs of support, and at first the coverage seemed thin– several arms lengths’ separating each person. But more and more allies kept arriving. We recognized people from other congregations and social networks. By the time the event began we were a solid line along the entire long block. People from MAPS kept circulating with water and snacks. Linda Sarsour herself walked down our line with thanks.

The predicted right-wing action didn’t materialize beyond two counter-protesters on the opposite sidewalk. They never grew to a group larger than five, and it seemed that some of the folks we counted were from our side of the street, attempting to engage them in dialog. Perhaps the presence of Redmond’s phalanx of bicycle cops deterred the others. In addition to its outreach to the local community, MAPS has also developed good relationships with the Redmond police.

The MAPS people invited us inside for the evening’s meal. All the gatherings we’ve attended there have been marked by gracious hospitality and friendliness, and this was no exception. We struck up conversations with others at our table, one of whom was a Muslim man who said he often attended the Christmas Eve mass at St. James, because of the candlelight service’s beauty. We invited him to ours.

So an act of witness morphed into an evening of association, reunion, and mutual appreciation. The community at MAPS has been unflinchingly committed to interfaith engagement, and they know how to make visitors feel welcome. Even more inspiring was the magnitude of support that turned out on short notice. What we took away from this evening was a renewal of hope, an affirmation that the seeds of ally-ship that had been planted over this contentious decade were now flourishing into robust growth. Perhaps the tide really is beginning to turn.

UUC’s Solidarity with Muslim Communities group welcomes more participants (watch for notices in the Gateway and blog posts). We are currently planning an informational session on Muslim Americans and feminism for early 2020, when we are back in our renovated building.

~ Ruth Pettis