For the second time in two days, University of Michigan Department of Public Safety and Security officers were called to the Diag Monday night to respond to student concerns about a man seen carrying an Islamic State flag and dressed in a thwab, a traditional Arab garment.
The man was first seen and approached by the police Sunday night.
The man, an Ann Arbor resident who only gave his first name, Carlos, said he was wearing the clothing as a costume. He noted he did not have any identifiers saying he was a Muslim on his clothing so passersby should not assume he is of the faith, adding that he considers himself a theocrat — a person who governs as a representative of a religious deity.
“This is my Halloween costume; I thought it was provocative,” Carlos said. “I decided to wear it because I thought it would be provocative and I was hoping that it would start an honest discussion about ideas.”
He added that he hoped to spark discussion of the greater political discourse, particularly amid the upcoming presidential election.
“I feel that liberals have failed standing for liberal ideas,” Carlos said. “They have failed to be as critical of communities of faith that have attached to them communities like ISIS or people that are radicalized — who have ideas — that are not compatible with liberal values.”
A student who wished to remain anonymous said he called the police upon seeing the man for the second time since Sunday night.
“He was walking past the Math building through the Diag,” the student said. “He was walking with the flag … There’s a problem with, I think, in particular, the fake firearm, because that’s not legal.”
Police came to the scene, spoke to Carlos and patted him down. Carlos said police asked him to leave both Sunday and Monday night.
“Apparently this guy is just against how liberal media portrays such an open environment and something about how they neglect the more oppressive culture of Muslims,” Carlos said.
DPSS spokeswoman Diane Brown told The Michigan Daily Monday night that the man is not committing any determinable crime due to his right to free speech.
Following his encounter with the police, which he filmed on his iPhone, Carlos spoke to a number of students gathered around him to explain his ideology. Among the students was one military-affiliated male who felt especially offended and a female student who said she didn’t know how she felt about it.
LSA senior Nicole Khamis, who witnessed the event, said as a Palestinian she felt offended by the man’s actions, adding that it perpetuated a dominant rhetoric around Islam being violent.
“He’s perpetrating this by, first off, he’s dressing up as Muslim or somebody who believes in Islam, continuing furthering that stereotype that Islam is a violent religion,” Khamis said. “When if you look at ISIS and you look at the text they use, it’s very specific and it’s cherry-picking and anybody who’s actually Muslim and believes in the Quran you can see that they disagree vehemently with ISIS and their use and contextualization of this.”
Carlos said he found much of what students told the Daily in response to the Sunday incident untrue, though he did not mention any specific claims. Students said they felt offended by Carlos’ actions.
“I want to get rid of political correctness that keeps us afraid of having a real honest debate about this, and that’s why I did this,” Carlos said. “I knew that it would be offensive and I guess I feel that there’s costs and benefits. The cost being that it is offensive, but the benefit is that we get attention, we get a conversation going here about what’s going on.”
He added that he expected a backlash from students, noting that students were flipping him off both Sunday and Monday night; however, he said he doesn’t oppose these actions if the people are doing it in opposition to radical Islam.
“I’m not here to make people mad,” Carlos said. “I want to have a clear critique of ideas, and I want there to be space in our public discourse for that critique of all systems of belief … I’m not saying that what I’m doing is ‘working’ — it doesn’t have to ‘work.’ ”