Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mile High Muslims on the March

Obamathon Man and his associate were admiring the Denver Library yesterday evening when we heard chants rising from the Capitol building nearby. Shrill voices rang out on megaphones, and car horns blared along with chants. We thought perhaps it could be a group of irate young Republicans, or perhaps the citizens of Denver spontaneously assembling to show their love for Hickenlooper. In reality, it was something much more controversial, and thus blogworthy: the Colorado Muslim Society had gathered to protest Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Across the street from the protest, five police cars camped out; if the middle east couldn't have peace, at least Denver would. As we waited to cross the street, a man on a cell phone angrily said, "Yeah, the same people who launch rockets at Israel get angry when Israel fights back." We crossed the street and walked past the long line of protesters waving flags and shouting at passing cars. Some of the women wore headscarfs, others didn't. We climbed to the top of Capitol Hill, passing several Muslim families with kids running up and down the hill, and it occurred to me that young children look just as sweet and innocent when they observe hijab. We hit the top of the hill right as a prayer session began, and while I could not understand the words, I reacted to the prayer in much the same way as I do to Christian prayers. I wondered what Americans would think of Islam if they could understand the meaning of Muslim prayer, and realized how similar it was to Christianity.

We walked down the steps to the main table. An older woman with glasses sold glowsticks to young kids. She needed change and my associate and I were able to help her out. We asked her about the gathering, and while she was reluctant to talk, a tall older gentleman wasn't. He told us that this was organized by the Colorado Muslim Society in conjunction with Christian and (even) Jewish groups in response to what he called a total overreaction by the Israeli state. He identified himself as a Christian. He talked about how bad conditions in Gaza were, how people there were subject to random searches and seizures, and how Palestinian fishermen were periodically fired upon by Israeli naval vessels. Ultimately he said that these things do not excuse the Hamas Attacks, but they do explain them.

I asked what he thought the new administration would do differently in regards to the Israeli conflict. He praised the level headedness of Obama but said that he was faced with a difficult situation that he might not be able to change. Then I asked him his take on what Muslims thought of Obama. He told me that he had been to a few Middle Eastern countries recently, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Gaza. The Muslims there generally supported Obama, he told me. A middle-aged man, who later identified himself as a Muslim originally from Morocco, chimed in. He said that he personally voted for Obama because he seemed more capable of making good judgments with lasting effects - incidentally, one of the main reasons I voted for Obama too. He said that Obama would be under alot of pressure to act a certain way, and he hoped Obama woudn't cave in. While I could agree with such a general statement, I had a feeling he probably meant something more specific than that.

He continued, talking about how in Moorish Spain in the Middle Ages, Christians, Muslims, and Jews occupied the same area without conflict. He also said that modern day Israel was much more peaceful before 1948. His feeling, he said, was that most Muslims just wanted to live their lives peacefully. We all agreed that that was a good thing, that people should be able to live their lives without fear of excessive violence.

They asked where I was from, I told them the LA area, and they were happy I was visiting Denver. I told them I was going to visit the inauguration and they were actually impressed, but more that I would subject myself to such discomfort. The older man said that he had attended Obama's acceptance speech at the DNC, and that it took him 3 hours to get in. He also talked about his trip in 1963 to see Dr. King's epochal "I have a Dream" speech. I could only begin to imagine what that must have been like, and I told him I would do my best to carry the torch. I thanked them for talking with me, and then left to get dinner.

The next morning, I found a well-reasoned editorial in the Rocky Mountain News. While there is much to disagree about on this issue, we can all agree that our goal is to have as few deaths as possible, and that instead of killing our enemies it is better to make them not want to kill us. As I write this, it is already 2009 in most of the world, but to those of us who have yet to celebrate the new year: Chicago, Denver, and my home back in Los Angeles, let us think of peace as we sing Auld Lang Syne. We have elected a man to be our president who in the midst of troubled times has given us hope. In this new year, let's work together for something better, for change doesn't come from an elected leader, it comes from us all.

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