"We have to stand up right now in a public manner and say a resounding 'no' to anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry," said Congregational Church of Austin's Pastor Tom VandeStadt at the launch of the Banner Project on April 28.
The project is intended as a concrete way to demonstrate support for the Muslim community during a time of growing anti-Muslim sentiment, said Bonnie Tamres-Moore, the project's mastermind and a founder of Interfaith Action for Human Rights. Faith groups are asked to hang banners outside of their houses of worship expressing the sentiment "We Stand With Our Muslim Neighbors," or "Honor God – Say No to Anti-Muslim Bigotry." "A big visual statement is powerful and memorable," said Tamres-Moore. Sponsored by Interfaith Action for Human Rights, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, the project seeks to grow beyond Texas and become a platform for fostering mutual understanding nationwide. "My hope is that one conversation, one dinner, one friendship, one banner at a time, we will widen the space where we can know each other and be fully human," said Tamres-Moore.
At the launch, held at the University United Methodist Church, VandeStadt listed recent incidents of anti-Muslim hatred nationwide (see "Anti-Muslim Sentiment Alive and Well in Texas," Oct. 30, 2015). "The expression of Islamophobia not only harms our Muslim neighbors," he said, "but also our community and nation because it is a violation of civil rights and human rights."
In December 2015, the Arab American Institute reported an increase in negative attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. The report revealed a decline since 2010 in favorable attitudes toward Arab Americans and American Muslims – from 49% to 40% for Arab Americans; and 48% to 33% for American Muslims. Americans on average lack confidence in the ability of an Arab American or American Muslim to perform in an important position of influence in the government: 35% of respondents felt that Arab Americans would be influenced by their ethnicity, and 46% felt that American Muslims would be influenced by their religion.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a 42% increase in the total number of anti-Muslim hate groups, up from 2014. The word "Muslim" has become an insult, said Shaykh Mohamed-Umer Esmail, Nueces Mosque Imam. "If somebody wants to insult the president, they say he's a Muslim. So when we say we stand with our Muslim neighbors, I would say it also includes all our neighbors regardless of their race, color, orientation, and religion."
State Rep. Donna Howard also spoke at the event. "I want to believe that the anti-Muslim discriminatory types of legislation that get presented by my colleagues are done from a place of ignorance, and not a place of hate," she told the Chronicle. "But it seems like we are constantly having to push back on efforts to marginalize certain segments of our population and remind some of our colleagues that we represent everyone, and not just the people that elected us."
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