A Texan man became a viral sensation last week when he approached a mosque in Irving, Texas, with a sign to send a political message. But for once, this was a message of love and unity, not of hate. Emblazoned on the sign read YOU BELONG. STAY STRONG. BE BLESSED. WE ARE ONE AMERICA.
Irving has been a surprise battlefield in the right-wing’s efforts to keep American white and Christian. The Irving mosque has been a magnet for anti-Muslim “protesters,” who would march in front of it with heavy weapons and signs protesting the “Islamization” of America, hyped on by Islamophobes like Sen. Ted Cruz and pundits like Ann Coulter. Irving was the city where a teenage Muslim boy was arrested for bringing a home-made clock to school, and is also the city where conservatives lost their minds over rumors of secret “sharia courts” being held in the mosques.
So it makes an extremely powerful statement for citizen Justin Normand to go out day after day to let the worshippers of the Irving Islamic Center know they’re welcome in Texas. Normand explains his actions in this powerful Facebook post – and has a powerful message that all Americans need to hear.
I’M THE TEXAN WHO HELD THE “YOU BELONG” SIGN IN FRONT OF THE MOSQUE IN IRVING
I have had the most extraordinary weekend.
Like most everyone I know, I have been in a malaise and at a loss since Election Day. What to do? With myself? With my time? To make things better, or even just to slog through?
I manage a sign shop, and so I had had the urge for a week or so to do this. Friday, I had a couple of spare hours in the afternoon, so I did.
I made a sign, and I drove to the nearest mosque and stood out on the public sidewalk to share the peace with my neighbors. My marginalized, fearful, decent, targeted, Muslim neighbors.
Someone took a picture and posted it, and as of today it’s been viewed millions of times, and shared across various platforms many hundreds of thousands of times.
This is extraordinary and humbling; mainly because what I did isn’t (or shouldn’t be) all that extraordinary.
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.
This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet.
This was about my religion, not theirs.
And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.
Find a group marginalized by the haters in this current era we find ourselves in. Then, find a way to express your acceptance to that group in a physically present way, as opposed to a digital one.
I can assure you, from their outpouring of smiles, hugs, tears, hospitality, messages extending God’s love, and a bouquet of flowers, it will mean a lot.
My own religious tradition ascribes these words to my deity:
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
It is also in this vein that the words on the Statue of Liberty embrace, with eagerness and mercy, all who come to join us:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words bespeak the America we all remember, know, love, and are still called upon to be. Especially now.
Lastly, it worked. I felt better for the impact it had on my neighbors. They genuinely needed this encouragement. They need us.
They need all of us. They need you.
We ARE one America.