The Bartlett meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance — to the American flag and to the Republic for which about 50 citizens have gathered to express their deep concern. “Radical Islam is here and it’s threatening every freedom we hold dear,” said Mason Ezzell, a local businessman and former Air Force pilot.
He was addressing the February meeting of the Memphis chapter of ACT! for America, a grassroots, anti-Islam organization that claims more than 150,000 members in 650 chapters across the country. “I wish it wasn’t true. I hate that it is. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Many Muslims are good people who just don’t know what’s happening. We don’t want to believe what’s happening, but it is. This is real, folks.”
Real to Ezzell and dozens of members of ACT! Memphis, who believe Islam is a threat to American freedom, and that all observant Muslims are radical Islamists in sheep’s clothing, determined to impose an oppressive and archaic form of Islamic law on the U.S.
Real in a different way to their Muslim neighbors, who believe that their religious freedom in America is being threatened by Islamophobes, and that their faith is not a threat but rather a valuable thread in America’s multicultural, multifaith fabric.
“There is an orchestrated campaign to create tension and to create paranoia about our religion,” said Yasir Qadhi, a Rhodes College instructor and resident scholar at the Memphis Islamic Center. He was addressing about 200 of his fellow Muslim Americans who gathered inside a mosque last month to express their own deep concerns.
“The good news here is that this type of mentality can be counteracted with education, with tolerance and good manners,” Qadhi said. “We have to be ambassadors for our faith.”