A wave of anti-Muslim rallies will sweep nearly 30 cities across America on Saturday, in a move by far-right activists that has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights groups and inspired counter-protests nationwide.
The so-called “anti-Sharia” rallies have been organised by Act For America, which claims to be protesting human rights violations but has been deemed an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The planned demonstrations prompted security fears at mosques across the country and come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise.
A coalition of 129 national and local organisations amplified concerns on Friday in a letter urging mayors to denounce the marches, which also coincide with Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during the daylight hours. At least one planned rally was cancelled in Portland, Oregon, where two men were fatally stabbed last month while defending two Muslim women from a man who taunted them with racial slurs.
“We are deeply concerned about the type of message that these protests send to the American public and to the good people in your city – that it is acceptable to vilify people simply because of their faith,” the groups wrote in their letter to 29 mayors.
“We, the undersigned national and local civil rights, faith-based, and community organisations, ask that you use your voice as an elected representative of your city to reject bigotry.”
At least some elected officials condemned the rallies, which they argued would promote fear and hatred under the guise of free speech.
“We need to remember that we’re strong when we’re united,” said the US representative Debbie Dingell, a Democrat who hails from Dearborn, Michigan, where roughly 40 per cent of the residents are Muslim.
“They will not win, they will not divide this country and they will be total failures on Saturday,” Dingell said Thursday on Capitol Hill, “because we will be united against that hatred.”
Concerns within the Muslim American community have risen since the election of Donald Trump, whose campaign routinely drew upon Islamophobic comments. The president pledged to ban Muslims from entering the US, falsely claimed Muslims celebrated on the roofs of New Jersey on 9/11 and suggested Barack Obama sympathised with extremists.
The FBI has documented a surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent years, reporting a 67 per cent spike between 2014 and 2015 of incidents motivated by bias against Muslims, Arabs, South Asian and other immigrant communities.