Omar El-Halwagi, a second year Law student, began Thursday night’s vigil — held for the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut — with an anecdote.
He told of a boy in Texas who donated all the money in his piggy bank to the local mosque after hearing it was vandalized in wake of the attacks.
“As we are here today reflecting on peace, we’re reflecting on the attacks, we’re reflecting on Islamophobia and racism on our campus and the marginalization of voices of color,” he said. “Every now and then, all you need is a glimpse of hope.”
That was the message as about 50 students gathered in the Law Quadrangle for a peace rally which addressed recent waves of Islamophobia following the attacks. The attack in Paris spurred an increase in discriminatory backlash toward Muslims, particularly Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS for the United States. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, along with several dozen other governors, have called for a temporary or permanent halt to the entry of Syrian refugees into their states.
Organized by the Racial Justice Coalition and the Muslim Law Student Association, aimed to give students the opportunity to express their feelings about the attacks, as well as voice concerns about Islamophobia as a reaction to them.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks, which killed 129 people, on Saturday, according to the Washington Post.
El-Halwagi, who is the co-president of MLSA, opened the rally by reflecting on his reaction to the Paris attacks, as well as separate attacks in Beirut Nov. 12 in which a pair of suicide bombers killed 43 people and injured 239 others.
“(I felt) this feeling of hopelessness when last Friday I learned about the over 130 people who were killed in Paris, while I was still dealing with the hopelessness from the day before as those same individuals were killed in Beirut,” he said. “While I was then dealing with the hopelessness as I felt that no one cared about the people who died the day before because they simply look different and came from a different part to the world.”
First-year Law student Asma Husain, who spoke during the rally, said she often feels like she must bear the burden of her entire culture as a Muslim and answer for things she doesn’t agree with, such as the actions of extremists.
“Being a Muslim in America now means you have this kind of tax placed upon you,” she said. “Which means when anything happens that involves anyone whose identity has any tenuous or untrue or contradictory connection to Islam or claims that connection, you feel like it is a weight put upon your shoulders to explain or apologize or distance yourself from those actions.”
First-year Law student Zahrah Fadel, who also spoke, echoed Husain’s sentiments.
She said groups like the Islamic State are trying to bring back the hatred and fear that existed following the 9/11 attacks.
“It took me years after I moved here from Lebanon. I was embarrassed to bring a pita sandwich to school for so long. I was embarrassed to admit that I was a Muslim, but I realized growing up that I’m American. I’m just as American as anyone else,” Fadel said. “We’ve (made) so much progress in this country to move from that divisive mindset, so let’s not go back. I don’t want this generation to grow up hopeless. I want us to grow up together.”
Along with speeches from community members, organizers also held a moment of silence for victims of terror worldwide, as well as taking a picture in solidarity with Parisians.
Second year Law student Nicolas Kabat, president of the Racial Justice Coalition, said his inspiration for the rally came from how upset he saw members of his community were in response to the week’s events.
“I think everyone was very upset with the Paris attacks, and yet we were also equally upset by the response we were seeing from local politicians, from media pundits,” he said. “We wanted to have a rally that would show our solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks and also show our solidarity with all Muslims in the U.S. and anyone experiencing hatred.”