As Muslims who live in the U.S. witness a disturbing rise in hate crimes, one man in Texas is taking a stand and spreading a message of solidarity, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.”
The white-haired man donning a cowboy hat stood outside the Islamic Center of Irving near Dallas over Thanksgiving weekend, holding up the red, white and blue sign for drivers to read as they passed by.
A photo of the man, who was later identified as Justin Normand, was shared on Twitter on Friday — and it quickly went viral with more than 63,000 retweets.
The picture sparked a mixture of feelings for Twitter users, but dozens of people ultimately applauded Normand’s action.
“This made me misty eyed. Bless that man. Very courageous thing to do in this day & age, especially in red states,” another user commented.
Normand, the manager of a local sign shop, said he felt the urge to do this for about a week or so.
On Friday, he had a couple of hours to spare. So, he made a sign and drove to a nearby mosque.
“[I] stood out on the public sidewalk to share the peace with my neighbors. My marginalized, fearful, decent, targeted, Muslim neighbors,” Normand wrote in a Facebook post, which was shared by more than 16,000 people.
The Texas resident then explained why he felt compelled to take a stand.
“For me, this wasn’t about expressing agreement; I remain Presbyterian, not Muslim. It wasn’t about demonstrating my outrage to right-wing drivers driving down Esters Road in front of the mosque. I can never, and will never, change any of the haters. It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here,” he said. “This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us.”
President-elect Donald Trump first called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. early last December. Some Trump supporters have even raised the idea of creating a Muslim registry — an issue that first surfaced on the campaign trail last year.
Since Trump won the election, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has recorded more than 100 incidents specifically targeting Muslims.
The group expects to have an updated count in early January, Corey Saylor, director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at CAIR, told CBS News.
“However, it is safe to say 2016 is now the worst year on record when it comes to Islamic places of worship being targeted by bias,” Saylor said.
Several mosques in California recently received letters that praised the president-elect and threatened Muslim genocide.
“There’s a new sheriff in town - President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims,” the letter stated, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Bay Area chapter.
In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in the days following the election, Mr. Trump denounced the acts of violence and told people involved in such incidents to “stop it.”
Saylor agreed, and hopes people will follow Normand’s message of acceptance.
“The man’s act is a welcome reminder of the ideals that make America awesome,” Saylor said. “The post-election bigotry currently targeting many minorities only makes us look fearful and empowers those who hate our nation.”