My name is Phil Campbell. That’s me on the left of this photo. Sometimes I go by “Brooklyn Phil” because that was my nickname after I organized total strangers, all named Phil Campbell, from around the world to raise money for the tornado-devastated town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. But that’s not why I’m writing this post.
Anyway, I was making a photo album, strictly for myself and my friends on Facebook, of the people in my neighborhood, when the Trump immigration ban happened. As I was uploading this specific photo to my computer – again, for no reason other than to make a photo album of my neighborhood -- it struck me that to some people this photo might seem like a very political statement. Why? Because Trump. Donald Trump wants us to mistrust Muslims the way Japanese-Americans were mistrusted during World War II. Moreover, Trump has hired white nationalist Steve Bannon to be a top adviser; Bannon seems bent on antagonizing Muslims and the Middle East to the point that we do have a World War III.
The two guys in the middle of this photo are Muslims named Mohammed and Joseph, and they are from Yemen; the man wearing the hoodie on the right is Sammy, a Christian from Egypt. Most of the people who work at this deli are Muslims from Yemen. To me they are just some guys from the neighborhood that I really admire. I’ve known them for at least ten years. I admire them because they are among the hardest-working people I have ever met. They never take a vacation; they are always there and they’re never rude to customers, even though I have, occasionally, seen some customers be very, very rude to them.
I do not mistrust these Muslims. Actually I do not mistrust Muslims any more than I mistrust any other person in America that I might see on the street.
Loves trumps hate. For us to live, it must. So I have an idea.
Almost all the photos that I’ve seen of the recent protests against Trump’s unconstitutional immigration policies are massive crowd shots. They are impressive crowd shots, mind you. And the only photos I see of individuals that I can say I’ve seen are of people holding daring or cheeky signs. That’s all wonderful, but I feel like something is still missing.
Let’s show the rest of America during these protests that love does trump hate. Next time you are at a protest – there’s one every day now -- ask the Muslims that you see there, respectfully, if you can take a photo with them. Take a selfie or a group photo like I’ve done. Smile. Talk to the Muslims, if there is time, and ask them a couple of questions about their lives. Just as importantly, share this photo on social media with all your friends. (I’m not very good at coming up with hashtags, but let’s try one: #myneighbor).
But let’s take it further than that. Because this is important. Most mosques are glad to welcome non-Muslim visitors on certain days of the week. They have for years now. Muslims in America do not want you to mistrust them. They don’t. Call the mosque. Ask if you can visit and take a tour. Always be respectful when you do this. Perhaps the mosques will catch on to the increase in calls and leave instructions for visiting on their voicemails. Anyway, when you go on the tour, ask, respectfully, if you can take a photo with the Muslims giving the tour, or with some of the other Muslims who are present. And then, just as importantly, share this photo on social media, as widely as you can. Try to get some details of these people’s lives, so you can learn for yourself all the ways in which people are similar. And remember to add these details with your photo that you share. Remember: People are not props. Always remember that.
Ultimately, our cultural attitudes around minorities in this country have to change. Especially toward Muslims, especially now, during the Trump administration. There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims scattered around the world. It is absolutely impossible that they all want us dead. If there was to be a new holy war, wouldn’t it have happened already, without all this egging on by Trump and Bannon? Most people just want to live their lives, worship (or not worship) in their own way, according to their own traditions. The vast majority of people around the world do not want to be in the insane situation Donald J. Trump is putting us all in.
Remember: Love trumps hate. Don’t leave the work of actually talking to Muslims in your community to NPR and the Humans of New York guy. It’s all our responsibility now, and it’s more important than ever.