Thursday Night: Two American-born Muslims harassed outside of Minneapolis Jazz Club
Yes, that’s right. I believe this is the most excitement the sidewalk outside of the jazz club has experienced in a long time… though I wouldn’t know as it is not often that I am in downtown at 10pm on a Thursday night which is apparently when the crazies come out!
I’ve been wearing hijab for over a year now and I’ve never gotten any reactions more than a pseudo-ignorant comment or two and most of those have been well-intended.
It was the first night of the Netroots Nation conference a yearly “progressive geek fest” which has inspired the Right Online conference to follow it to every city it goes. Right Online creatively labels itself as the Republican equivalent of Netroots.
Anwar, a fellow Netroots attendee visiting from California and I were on the sidewalk around 10pm Thursday looking for a place to eat when we ran into an acquaintance of mine – Elisabeth – who has given talks for our local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of Minnesota. Elisabeth was helping us find a place to eat when out of nowhere a man, confirmed by the Minneapolis Police Department to be John Hugh Gilmore, walked by and said, “Ayan Hersi Ali.” For those of you who haven’t heard of Ayan, she is a former Muslim who earned millions off of the several books she has published completely trashing Islam. Gilmore continued to walk past us and then turned around and gave us a “thumbs up.” We were a bit confused and we told him that we actually didn’t agree with her ideas. He asked us why we didn’t. Anwar responded telling him that it was okay, and we could agree to disagree. We wanted to move on with our night. But the man continued, What’s the problem? Why don’t you like her? He was so persistent and obnoxious. Anwar finally ended the convo “I have a right to not tell you why I disagree, God bless and goodnight.” (Yes, Muslims do indeed believe in God, and Jesus as well for that matter).
We returned to talking with Elisabeth and one minute later we looked over and he was taking pictures of us from about 10 feet away. Elisabeth called him out by saying excuse me and asking him not to take her picture. He responded, what’s wrong, we’re in a public place, this is a public sidewalk I can take your pictures. AND THEN he decides to go there, oh yea, full blown Islamo-hating rhetoric. He gave the whole spiel, you people can’t come to our country and try to change things, this is the West, go back to where you came from etc… I appreciated how WE (Anwar and I, the two hijabis) were not even the ones who asked him to stop taking our pictures. The original request was from Elisabeth and he decided to address us instead and turn it into something about Muslims. Elisabeth and Anwar continued to stand up for us and told him, “You can take your racism that way!”
In the mean time, there had been a crowd of fellow Netroots activists and bloggers forming around us. Gilmore would not retreat and he continued on his Islamophobic rant telling us that we couldn’t, “come here and change things.” Anwar responded and told him, “This is the REAL democracy. We love our country. Look at all these people, every shape and color gathered around us.” When he still would not retreat, Anwar and I decided to let some of the Netroots people step in. Gilmore actually threatened a Jewish-American man, who then proceeded to call the cops.
The MPD arrived shortly after and asked us some questions. The officer went inside the restaurant Gilmore had finally escaped to and brought him out in handcuffs. The officer came back out and continued to question us and then helped the Jewish-American man file a citizens arrest.
All the support we were getting from the people around us, and from the extraordinarily compassionate MPD officer was truly amazing. It has honestly changed many of my former perceptions of police officers and the city of Minneapolis in general.
NOTE: I would like to add in that we have no knowledge that Andrew Breitbart was at all involved in what happened as he has been accused of being involved in this video. Also, there has been a rumor circulating that Pakistani blogger Sana Saleem was the victim in this case, but that is also not true.
Friday: Andrew Breitbart Crashes Netroots
In light of Thursday night’s incident and the emerging rumors that he was alleged to be the harasser from the night before, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart briefly attended the Netroots conference without paying. It is not confirmed that his intentions were solely to address the rumors. You can watch this video to see what happened.
Saturday: Hijabi Flash Mob Crashes RightOnline
As a response to the incident of Islamophobia on Thursday, some of us Muslims and other supporters who were attending Netroots Nation decided to make an appearance at the RightOnline conference. Our intentions were to simply stand outside the event and stand up for the human rights that we Muslims deserve just as much as any other human being. Several women attending the Netroots conference came to support us as well. We arrived on the floor where the event was occurring and were asked to leave by security. However, when we tried to go back, we were surrounded by media from both conferences and could not leave the premises. The media from the RightOnline conference was very agitated when we told them to contact the MPD because we could not tell him the name of Thursday night’s harasser. The reporter didn’t seem to understand that our attendance at the conference was organized by a group of women who just happened to attend the Netroots conference and believed strongly in human rights and not a media attack from the left.
UPDATE 6/19/11, 10:55pm: Gilmore’s arrest info, charged of a misdemeanor via Hennepin County
Another update, 11:11pm: A more eloquent piece from witness who writes at The Daily Kos