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Protesters call to 'Stop Islam'
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Crowds gather for anti-Islam demonstration outside Phoenix mosque
Weapons-branding anti-Islam protesters faced with counterprotesters shouting 'go home, Nazis'; Iraq war veteran organizes protest in response to shooting at Texas exhibit of cartoons featuring Prophet Mohammad.

PHOENIX - More than 200 protesters, some armed, berated Islam and its Prophet Mohammed outside an Arizona mosque on Friday in a provocative protest that was denounced by counterprotesters shouting "Go home, Nazis," weeks after an anti-Muslim event in Texas came under attack by two gunmen.

 

 

The anti-Muslim event outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix was organized by an Iraq war veteran who posted photos of himself online wearing a T-shirt with a crude slogan denigrating Islam and waving the US flag.

 

As the event got under way, demonstrators on both sides screamed obscenities at each other as police in riot gear swiftly separated the two groups, each with about 250 people, using police tape and barricades.

 

Anti-Islam protesters (left) faced with counterprotesters (Photo: AFP)
Anti-Islam protesters (left) faced with counterprotesters (Photo: AFP)
 

"This is in response to the recent attack in Texas," organizer Jon Ritzheimer wrote on his Facebook page announcing the event at a mosque targeted in part because the two Texas gunmen had worshiped there.

 

Anti-Islam protesters brandishing weapons (Photo: Reuters)
Anti-Islam protesters brandishing weapons (Photo: Reuters)

 

More than 900 people responded on the event's Facebook page that they would attend, and police expanded their presence in the evening in anticipation of growing crowds. Officers with riot helmets and gas masks formed a cordon for several blocks.

 

Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: EPA)
Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: EPA)

 

Among the anti-Islam protesters, some of whom called Islam a "religion of murderers," more than a dozen men in military clothing carried semi-automatic weapons. Others waved copies of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad drawn at the Texas event.

 

Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: Reuters)
Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: Reuters)

 

By late Friday night, virtually all the protesters and police had left the area with no reports of violent flare-ups or arrests.

 

Anti-Islam protesters in full military gear (Photo: AFP)
Anti-Islam protesters in full military gear (Photo: AFP)

 

Depictions of Mohammad, which many Muslims view as blasphemous, have been a flashpoint for violence in Europe and the United States in recent months where those displaying or creating such images have been targeted by militants.

 

Police line separates protesters and counterprotesters with anti-Islam protester (right) holding sign that says 'Sharia Law is NOT compatible with the US constitution' (Photo: Reuters)
Police line separates protesters and counterprotesters with anti-Islam protester (right) holding sign that says 'Sharia Law is NOT compatible with the US constitution' (Photo: Reuters)

 

Anti-Muslim groups have been active in the United States, buying ads and staging demonstrations characterizing Islam as violent, often citing the murderous brutality of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

 

'Love your neighbor' 

The Phoenix mosque targeted on Friday has condemned such violence and held a series of sermons at Friday prayers last year by an imam who criticized militant Islamist groups such as Islamic State, al-Qaeda and Nigeria's Boko Haram.

 

The president of the center had urged worshipers not to engage with the demonstrators.

 

Counterprotesters calling for end to hate speech and hate crime (Photo: AFP)
Counterprotesters calling for end to hate speech and hate crime (Photo: AFP)

 

"We should remind ourselves that we do not match wrongness with wrongness, but with grace and mercy and goodness," Usama Shami told worshipers during Friday prayers.

 

While some counter-protesters outside the mosque responded to the anti-Islam protest with obscenities, others followed his advice and chanted "Love your neighbor."

 

Counter protesters calling to 'Love your neighbor' (Photo: Reuters)
Counter protesters calling to 'Love your neighbor' (Photo: Reuters)

 

Todd Green, a religion professor at Luther College in Iowa who studies Islamophobia, said that the brutal acts committed by Islamic State and other militant groups have colored many Americans' impressions of Muslims.

 

"Almost two-thirds of Americans don't know a Muslim," Green said. "What they know is ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Charlie Hebdo," referencing the January attack on the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead over anger at the magazine's cartoons featuring the Prophet.

 

Anti-Islam protesters confronting counterprotesters from beyond police line (Photo: AP)
Anti-Islam protesters confronting counterprotesters from beyond police line (Photo: AP)

In a similar incident, a pair of gunmen on May 3 opened fire near Dallas outside an exhibit of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammad and were shot dead by police.

 

Leaders of the Phoenix Muslim community confirmed both gunmen had attended the mosque targeted in Friday's demonstration.

 

Anti-Islam protesters and counterprotesters square off (Photo: AP)
Anti-Islam protesters and counterprotesters square off (Photo: AP)

 

US officials are investigating claims that the Texas gunmen had ties to the Islamic State, but said they had not established a firm connection.

 

'Epidemic of anti-Islamic sentiment' 

The Department of Homeland Security spoke with state and local law enforcement and monitored the situation in Phoenix, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

 

Ritzheimer, the main organizer of the demonstration, said the point was "to expose the true colors of Islam."

 

"True Islam is terrorism. Yes, the ones that are out committing these atrocities and stuff, they are following the book as it's written," Ritzheimer told CNN.

 

Anti-Islam protester (right) brandishing a torn copy of the Quran, faced with counterprotesters (Photo: AFP)
Anti-Islam protester (right) brandishing a torn copy of the Quran, faced with counterprotesters (Photo: AFP)

 

Ritzheimer was a staff sergeant in the Marine Reserve and was deployed to Iraq twice, in 2005 and 2008, the Marine Corps said.

 

Anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller, who organized the Texas event, said she was not involved in the Phoenix demonstration.

 

Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: Reuters)
Anti-Islam protesters (Photo: Reuters)

 

The mosque is a former church near the city's international airport that can hold some 600 worshipers. The Phoenix area is home to tens of thousands of Muslims.

 

Friday's event is part of "an epidemic of anti-Islamic sentiment" that goes beyond protesting against extremism, said Imraan Siddiqi of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

 

"Don't mistake that, they're not saying they want to rid America of radical Islam, they are saying they want to rid America of Islam," Siddiqi said.

 


פרסום ראשון: 05.30.15, 09:29
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