As anti-Islam sentiments grow in the wake of the Paris terror attack that claimed at least 129 lives, and the downing of a Russian passenger jet in which 224 souls perished, American civil rights leader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson says, “We cannot allow [ISIL] to undermine our morality; our constitution. We must stand with that which is right and which is just.”
- A series of anti-Islam rallies have been held across Australia in recent days
- Debate over the future of Syrian refugees in the United States intensified in the wake of the Paris attacks
- Leading Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been criticized for sweeping comments about Muslims and refugees
- Jackson says efforts to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the US is like the hysteria that prevented thousands of Jews from finding safe haven in the US when fleeing Nazism at the start of World War II
A series of anti-Islam rallies have been held across Australia, with police forced to intervene to separate protesters from rival, anti-racism demonstrators in the city of Melbourne.
The events by a group called Reclaim Australia drew hundreds of supporters but also triggered counter-rallies from other groups who criticized them as racist and called for greater tolerance.
Between 500-800 people gathered in the pouring rain in Martin Place in Sydney’s central business district on Saturday for one of the largest demonstrations, which were held in a number of state capitals and regional centres.
A speaker, who called himself “the great Aussie patriot” addressed the Sydney crowd, saying: “Out of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims that live on this planet, only 15-20 percent of them are extremists, yet 15-20 percent is around 300 million extremist Muslims who are dedicated to the takeover and downfall of western civilization.”
Arguing in support, one protester, who identified himself as Greg said, “[Muslims] come here to live in Australia and they want to change our values, our way of life, to suit them. They come here for a new life – and they want their old life. So why stay here if they don’t want it? They can leave -simple as that.”
‘Implicating good people’
However, anti-racist rally organizer Mel Gregson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Reclaim Australia was spreading “conspiracy theories”.
“It’s basically implicating good Muslim people in the political movements of a tiny minority,” she said.
In the United States, rights groups have censured American politicians’ comments about Muslims as a debate over the future of Syrian refugees in the United States intensified in the wake of the Paris attacks.
The debate took on a racial aspect as presidential candidates, mostly Republican, proposed a wide range of restrictions, including requiring Muslim immigrants to carry special IDs and to increase monitoring of mosques. Thirty US governors have said that they will pass laws to prevent refugees from Syria from settling in their states.
Leading Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been criticized for sweeping comments about Muslims and refugees.
A poll conducted by Bloomberg Politics found that 53 percent of Americans oppose allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the US.
Donald Trump, who is leading in a recent NBC News poll among Republican voters, said he “would certainly implement” a database system for tracking Muslims.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he added. “We should have a lot of systems.”
Trump’s comments came a day after he was criticized for refusing to rule out special government-issued identification cards for American Muslims.
The Republican front-runner had been asked by Yahoo News if Muslims should carry a form of special identification that noted their religion.
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who is just behind Trump in the polls, was also criticized for likening Syrian refugees to rabid dogs:
“If there is a rabid dog running around your neighbourhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you’re probably going to put your children out of the way.”
Spokesperson for the Council on American Islamic Relations, Robert McCaw, described Carson’s comments as “unthinkable”.
“It’s very clear what Carson meant,” he said. “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog – and that’s put it down.”
“It makes American Muslims feel less secure,” McCaw said, adding that Trump and Carson “are using their positions as front-running candidates for the Republican Party to marginalize American Muslims for their own personal and political gain”.
Jesse Jackson speaks out
Civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, calls for caution. Reverend Jackson stood with hundreds of American Muslims at a suburban Chicago mosque on Friday, to protest against suggestions made by some politicians that they should carry special government-issued identification cards. The demonstrators also made the case that the US should not compromise on its moral standards by refusing to accept Syrian refugees.
Jackson compared efforts to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the US to the hysteria that prevented thousands of Jews from finding safe haven in the US when fleeing Nazism at the start of World War II.
The Baptist minister and civil rights activist urged Americans not to treat Muslims and Syrian refugees the same way many Americans had treated Jews in the run-up to the war.
“In 1930 to 1939, the Jews were trying to escape the haunted house of Hitler,” said Jackson, who was with Martin Luther King when he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
“They came on a ship called the St. Louis, and they were turned away, thought to be communists, sent back to die in the concentration camps. We shouldn’t do that again. We should know better.”
“We should be better. We should not do that to anybody. We should have learned our lesson on returning refugees,” he told those gathered there.
The UNHCR reports that there are more than four million Syrian refugees. The majority have migrated to neighbouring countries in the Middle East and many to Europe.
Only about 2,000 have been accepted into the US, with just 131 in Illinois, according to the US state department. President Barack Obama has proposed increasing that to 10,000 by next year. Recent surveys, however, show that most Americans, 53 percent, oppose allowing Syrian refugees to enter the country.
During his sermon, Dr Abdel Elsiddig, the Orlando Mosque imam, said it was “un-American” to require Muslims to carry special IDs, register their whereabouts and to “close mosques”. But he said he would be proud to carry a “Muslim ID”.
He stressed that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “does not represent” Islam. He denounced the use of violence, saying: “We don’t know who [ISIL] is … don’t let the devil distract you from your priorities. Take care of your children. Take care of your families. Take care of your community.”
Jackson, who sat through the imam’s 40-minute sermon and prayers, said he agreed.
Jackson reminded American Christians that Jesus was a refugee too when he fled persecution and lived in Egypt before returning to Nazareth and then Jerusalem where he was crucified 2,000 years ago.“It is un-American. It is immoral. It is wrong,” Jackson told Al Jazeera English.
Muslims at the event said they were encouraged by the expression of support from Jackson.
“I feel better knowing that there are people like Reverend Jackson here in America who believe in justice, equality and will fight not just for their religion but for religious freedom for all,” said one man who only gave his name as Ahmed.
What’s your take?