If recent demonstrations against U.S. diplomatic installations worldwide have spurred a new wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in America, they have also helped make clear the need for events like New York City’s annual Muslim Day Parade.
The parade, held yesterday in Midtown, featured colorful floats, a marching band and Muslim participants from every conceivable walk of life. High school students, imams and New York police officers all waved countless flags and banners as they marched down Madison Avenue. One poster—my personal favorite—proclaimed: “Keep Calm and Call Allah.” But it was a handwritten poster carried by one hijab-wearing girl that best encapsulated the parade’s overarching message: “I’m a Muslim, Please Don’t Hate Me.”
The scene drew mixed reactions from the crowd. Amanda, a Jewish resident of Washington Heights, approved of the parade, saying, “I think it’s great that people are able to demonstrate like this. It’s part of the power of New York City.” Asked what she thought the parade was all about, she said, “Just being Muslim. And having that be okay, in a public way.”
Some observers were less rosy in their assessments. Rick and Jessie, Dutch tourists who had stumbled upon the parade by accident, initially mistook it for a protest against “Innocence of Muslims,” the anti-Islam film that’s been sparking violence in cities across the Muslim world. In fact, though some participants held signs protesting blasphemy against Muhammad and a few speakers mentioned it, most steered clear of the subject, or simply passed out leaflets praising the Prophet. Upon realizing that this was not a protest, the tourists said they were used to more multicultural events and were surprised to see a parade devoted entirely to members of a single faith. “If you would do something like this in Holland, that would definitely get a lot of negative attention,” Rick said.
Asked whether he considered it a positive thing that Muslims here have their own parade, he said, “No. From our point of view, it isn’t. They’re shouting things which are kind of provocative. That there’s only one Allah, and He’s perfect, and if you don’t believe in Allah you’re not perfect…for me, to read such a thing is like, ‘What are you saying?’”
Jessie, who described the Muslims’ chanting of Allahu Akbar as “screaming,” thought the participants sounded angry, a perception that squares well with Newsweek’s recent cover story on so-called “Muslim Rage.” But, to her mind, this anger makes perfect sense. “It seems like they’re really mad because of their position in the society here. I know the position of Muslims over the past eleven years has been a bit different than before. I can imagine that, after everything that happened with 9/11, Muslims are still angry because people treat them differently since then. Maybe that’s what this is about.”
The parade, which was heavily policed, wrapped up peacefully around 2 pm. But when I stopped to talk to a police officer who was removing the barriers that had been blocking off the street, he suggested that not all New Yorkers were thrilled about the parade. Its overarching message—don’t discriminate against all Muslims because of the actions of a few—did not sit well with everyone. How did he know? “Look up,” he told me, “and put two and two together.”
Up above, a skywriter had scrawled a simple, competing message across the cloudless blue. “Never Forget,” the police officer read. “That’s what it says.”