PHOENIX —About 250 mostly armed anti-Muslim demonstrators — many wearing T-shirts bearing a profanity-laced message denouncing Islam — faced-off against a crowd of roughly the same size defending the faith in front of a Phoenix mosque Friday night.
Demonstrators yelled and taunted one another across a line of police separating the two sides but violence did not break out.
Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the protest, called it a patriotic sign of resistance against what he deemed the tyranny of Islam in America.
“I would love to see more of these events pop up in other states,” Ritzheimer said. “I want fellow patriots standing right here next to me. This isn’t about me. Everybody’s been thinking it, I’m just saying it.”
Usama Shami, president of the Islamic center, said he was not surprised by the event.
“This is not new. Hatred, bigotry, racism — that’s old. It’s the same thing,” he said. “No different from Nazis or neo-Nazis. They don’t believe society should be multicultural or multiethnic. They think everyone should believe like them, I guess.”
Ritzheimer began demonstrating after two Phoenix residents carrying assault rifles were killed by police outside a Muhammed cartoon-drawing contest in suburban Dallas earlier this month. In the days following the shooting, Ritzheimer began making and selling the T-shirts. Nearly two weeks ago, he organized a protest at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, where a few dozen others joined him.
Ritzheimer said he’s received threats from terrorists on Twitter, and that he and his family no longer feel safe in their home. He said he asked participants to bring guns in the Facebook invite as a precautionary measure. Some brought two or three firearms, from pistols and revolvers to shotguns and assault rifles. Ritzheimer carried a 9mm Glock 26. Some wore military fatigues.
The event kicked off with Ritzheimer inviting his supporters to draw cartoons of Muhammed and bashing the religion’s prohibition against creating depictions of the Islamic prophet.
Ritzheimer has confused patriotism with something else. People in this country may worship in any manner they choose, at least in theory. He has made some sweeping generalizations and has seriously compromised many people’s constitutional rights by his actions.
Let’s go to the root of the problem. Why would anyone want to offend? Why would anyone want to draw a depiction of Mohammad? Why stir up that kind of problem? Why not just let well enough alone. Being a provocateur just seems so unnecessary and dangerous.
If I were forced to attend a rally on this issue, I would have to side with the Muslims, even though it is not my faith. They may worship any way they choose. What they don’t have a right to do is go shoot people they feel offend them. Most don’t. Just a tiny fraction of American Muslims are violent–probably about equal to the same number who stalk or attempt to kill abortion providers in the name of Christianity. Those few who have attempted this are perverting Christianity.
All Americans need to take a deep breath and review the basic rights afforded to all who live in this country, citizens and non-citizens alike. There is simply no point in people going out of their way to stir up people of other faiths. The Phoenix protestors are on the same order as those who hunted down Mormons.