State Capitol rally. (All photos: Ras H. Siddiqui)
The signs they carried said “Sacramento-United Against Hate-United For Peace” as close to 800 people from many ethnicities and religious backgrounds gathered at the steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., Dec. 19 to both condemn the recent terror attacks in San Bernardino (and Paris) and also to unite against all kinds of intolerance, especially targeting the Muslim community, writes Ras H. Siddiqui. (#SanBernardino, #Sacramento, #California)
The list of sponsors of this rally included Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento, Area Congregations Together (ACT), MLK365, the NAACP, Coalition of Tolerance, Florin Japanese American Citizens League, Sikh Community, Jewish Voice for Peace, OCA, APAPA, HIP, COSVIO, CAIR-Sacramento Valley, American Muslim Voice, Pakistani American Association and PASCO.
The distinguished speakers included Pastor Les Simmons (who performed the opening prayer) and Fred Goodman from Mount Herman Baptist Church who needs to be commended for his fine rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After this opening, others slated to speak (this is not a full list and not in order) included Edrine Ddungu (Presbyterian), Pastor Joy/Pastor Simmons (ACT), U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Assemblymen Ken Cooley and Jim Cooper, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Candidate for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, from the area Muslim community Dr. Irfan Haq (COSVIO), Imam Azeez (Tarbiya Institute) and Waseem Bawa (Army Veteran and SALAM Board Member), Faith Whitmore, Mariko Yamada (Candidate for California Senate), Sam Stefanki, Fabrizio Sasso (AFL-CIO), Bobbie Singh-Allen (Punjabi Community), Stephen T. Webb (NAACP), and Dr. Tom Bhe (APAPA). The event emcee was CAIR-Sacramento’s Basim Elkarra. And since it is not possible here to cover all the speakers and their speeches, a difficult choice had to be made to focus on just five speakers through random selection here.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said that we can defeat terrorism because terrorism is not just about killing people; it’s about scaring everybody else. And if we stand united, if we do not give in to fear and divisions and we don’t turn neighbor on neighbor, we can defeat terrorists. He added that the ISIS narrative is that America is at war with Islam and they want an America divided, turning on each other, turning on our values. He added that anti-Muslim sentiment in this country is stoked by the same forces. They are both wrong because that is not the American way, he said. The whole idea of America has been about religious liberty. We are not going to give in and surrender our values, he said.
Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez of the Tarbiya Institute said that no amount of (the predicted) rain could stop Sacramentans from coming to this rally and that God had better plans and blessed us with this beautiful weather. If we come together with good intentions, good things usually happen, he said. As Muslims, whenever an atrocity (like these terrorist attacks) happens, just like everyone else we feel horrified, worried and anxious, and we pray for the victims. And the other part of our brain prays that the perpetrator is someone else (not a Muslim). Most of the time it turns out to be a crazy guy but this time it turned out to be a Muslim couple who heinously and cowardly killed 14 people. And the community wept. This is not us, and these actions don’t represent us, he said. But then we were overwhelmed this time. He said that he was touched by the overwhelming supportive response that Muslims have received from the community. He added that with this kind of unity in this country, the terrorists will not win. You (terrorists) will fail no matter how hard you try, he said.
Reverend Kevin Ross started his short speech starting with ‘Asalamalaikum.’ He said that hate rhetoric is not only anti-American but it is anti-Christian. It contradicts the inclusive Jesus and the pluralistic United States. He added that true Muslims are neither anti-American nor are they anti-Jesus. They love America as much as any other American and they love Jesus as any other Christian does. He also invoked the community vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his powerful delivery and proceeded to recite the Surah Ikhlas from the Quran, and ended on a renewed call for unity.
Mariko Yamada represented herself and in a way the greater Japanese American community here because her family was amongst those that suffered through internment camps during WW2. She said that as she has witnessed with pride over the last 21 years how this (Sacramento region) community comes together every single time after incidents of hate, discrimination and tragedy. She shared some thoughts on being the daughter of parents who had been interned at Manzanar Camp, and commended Congresswoman Doris Matsui for standing up for civil rights and social justice since she too had come out of the same experience. She likened our current situation to lifting weights during which we add more to see how far we can go. She opined that it seems that we don’t even have time to recover from one horrific incident till we are faced with another; like we are from a distance suffering from post-traumatic stress. She added that we have come too far to turn back on civil rights in this country.
Bobbie Singh-Allen from the Elk Grove Unified School District and the local Punjabi community in her speech quoted from Sikh scriptures “God is one. His name is Truth.” She said that good will always prevail over hate and darkness. We are the change that we wish to see in this world, she added. It is all of us standing up as one community. She said that we take The Pledge of Allegiance for granted sometimes. There is something very powerful in there. It says that we are one nation under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all of us.
The rally closed with a prayer by Imam Azeez and the Black National Anthem performed by Joshua James. This event served a dual purpose. It showed solidarity with the victims of San Bernardino, condemning terror in all forms and it also raised a voice against hate in reaction to such incidents, in support of the American Muslim community and people that may look like them (Sikhs) who are often targeted. It also reflected on what is good in America and needs to be preserved. We are one people but how many terrorist attacks can we endure?