One of the unfortunate symptoms of growing political hostility in America is a tendency for larger groups of people gathering for one side or another to get belligerent towards dissenting attendees – whether journalists or protesters. We’ve seen this in larger crowds of Trump supporters, and it can happen in progressive crowds as well.
Twenty-something Joseph Weidknecht tells his story of showing up at an anti-Trump rally in Austin, Texas with his Make America Great Again hat and a pro-Trump sign. Soon, he was surrounded by people wearing masks and he began to feel threatened. He recollected, “I heard a click of a lighter right behind my ear, and there were about three people trying to light my shirt on fire with lighters.”
Then one of them grabbed his hat off of his head. Who came to his defense?
A Muslim woman who came to the U.S. when she was 10 years old. After seeing the altercation, Amina Amdeen said, “That’s the point where … something kind of snapped inside of me because I wear a Muslim hijab, and I’ve been in situations where people have tried to snatch it off my head. And I rushed towards you and I just started screaming ‘Leave him alone! Give me that back!'”
Neither Amina or Joseph got the hat back, but Joseph said he was grateful for her willingness to step in, “I don’t think we could be any further apart as people, and yet, it was just kinda like this common ‘that’s not OK’ moment.”
Joseph admitted that his perceptions of Islam were largely informed up to that point by information he read online, adding, “You are genuinely the only Muslim person I know. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided, it’s just, I’ve just never been in the position where I can interact for an extended period of time.”
Amina herself acknowledged, “I feel like a lot of times in the media you don’t see the normal Muslims, the ones who listen to classic rock, like I do. You don’t meet that Muslim.”
And what happens if you do “meet that Muslim”?
What if you actually get to interact with [your political opposite] for an extended period of time?
How many other moments of sweet humanity could occur, if we did…including ways we might defend each other against unfair attacks on either side?
Let’s find out.
Credit to StoryCorps’ One Small Step Initiative, and the NPR summary of this event entitled, “An Unlikely Pair Share A Moment That Goes Beyond Politics.”