Imagine stepping out of your house of worship and seeing a group of screaming, belligerent hecklers ripping apart your holy book – spitting on and stomping on the pages. Imagine being shouted down, and told your faith is a lie by a group of people flashing gaudy, hate-filled signs and matching tee-shirts. This has become the reality for worshippers at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.
This past Friday, a group of hate protesters gathered outside the largest mosque in the Phoenix area, the unhinged “Brother Dean” Saxton – an infamous student-preacher from the University of Arizona. He has received the most attention for declaring “You Deserve Rape” to female students that he deems inappropriately dressed – as he preaches in open air-spaces.
Over the past few years, Brother Dean has become so infamous at U of A – there is an actual petition to have him expelled from the school, due to his menacing style of evangelism. Vice also did a documentary about him – which gives some insight that this individual is not playing with a full deck.
Saxton has taken his roadshow from U of A and is now frequenting the Arizona State University campus – shouting down female students, Muslims, Catholics, and essentially anyone that falls outside his narrow definition of what a believer is. Since the Tempe mosque falls directly on the ASU campus, it has now become a target for those aiming to vilify Islam.
Over the past few years – a group of evangelical Christians strategically places a team outside each entrance and exit of the mosque – mindful to occupy the first bit of public space outside the Islamic center’s property. These individuals attempt to engage congregants in a theological discussion, passing propaganda pamphlets aimed at converting them away from Islam to Christianity. Needless to say, these evangelists have become a nuisance to deal with for Tempe mosque-goers on a week to week basis. For people like me, who attend the mosque on a weekly basis – It has become part of my calculus of where I go for Friday prayers, in considering if I will have to deal with these individuals.
But then, Brother Dean and crew started showing up. And however sad it may be – those who attend the mosque would much rather deal with the relatively calm folks blocking the entrances, than the vile, unabashed hate offered up by these street-preachers.
The hate group proceeded to desecrate Islam’s holy book, spitting on and stomping on pages – even throwing them down a nearby gutter. Children were also present at the mosque during this time, however this was of no consequence to the demonstrators.
Don’t believe me? Check out the video worshippers at the mosque captured during the latest demonstration:
So Who Are These Guys?
After watching the Vice documentary, you can clearly tell that “Brother Dean” doesn’t possess the wherewithal to mastermind a protest of this nature – with professionally produced signage and cameraman in tow. After doing a little bit digging, it appears that the most notable of the hate-preachers is this guy – Ruben Israel. (Yes – he also has a documentary about him.)
Apparently, this community of preachers travels the country and seeking out large gatherings of people to shout down and demonstrate in front of. This would explain why this same group initially showed up outside the Tempe mosque during the week of the Super Bowl, which took place in the Phoenix metro area. Their usual method of operation includes standing outside convention centers, university common areas and sidewalks – shouting down anyone and everyone who they deem as “sinful.” Even though the content is highly offensive and aimed at fostering a reaction from passersby – this genre is usually taken with a grain of salt. Showing up outside a house of worship, however is a different story altogether.
Why This Matters
It is undeniable that we are witnessing unprecedented levels of anti-Islam sentiment in the U.S. – and beyond. I wrote earlier about a wave of anti-Muslim incidents that took place, in the wake of the tragic Chapel Hill shooting. On an almost weekly, if not daily basis – we are hearing of stories of Islamophobic attacks against mosques and even Hindu or Sikh institutions that are perceived as being “Islamic.”
In the last few days alone, we have seen mosque attacks in places such as Edmond, Oklahoma,Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Kansas City. Not to mention recent incidents, such as pigs heads targeting a mosque in England and an Islamophobic attack against a Sikh Gurdwara in Scotland. The upswing in violence against individuals and institutions is a direct correlation between the amount of hateful rhetoric that is pulsing in a given society.
Intersection of Gun Culture and Islamophobia
A second video (possibly from earlier in the protest) was captured by the congregation members as well:
In this video, you see two of the protestors make their way onto the mosque property, briefly exchanging with members of the mosque. “You’re trying to abolish The Constitution. And implement your sharia law,” claims the heavily bearded individual seen here:
After doing some research, his Facebook profile was located – with some disturbing results:
It is also unclear on whether or not Steven or any of the other street-preachers were carrying weapons outside the Tempe mosque. He does appear to be wearing some sort of pouch on the right side of the belt, which could plausibly house a weapon – and this wouldn’t be the first time weapons were brandished at an anti-Islam protest.
While we’re mentioning the Garland protest, look who else showed up there. Israel and his crew also showed up at Dearborn’s Arab-American Festival, a few years back – with a pig’s head on a pole. Clearly, as you can see – these guys are the carnies of the Islamophobia world. It wouldn’t be surprising if the likes of Pam Geller (who was the headliner at the Garland protest) and others within the Islamophobia Industry are compensating groups like these to show up and stir up hateful rhetoric during these fringe events.
It is hard to ignore the growing correlation between the anti-Islam movement and the pervasive gun-culture here in the U.S. Don’t believe me? The NRA just held a session claiming that ISIS has seized control of U.S cities at their convention last week. During a visit to Arizona a few months back – Pamela Geller mentioned in a blog post for attendees to bring weapons in case any protesters showed up to the venue – as this is an open-carry state.
These activists are using the exercise of the 2nd Amendment as a shield for their hateful display – but there is a flip side to all of this. We only have to look at the case of Chapel Hill shooter, Craig Hicks – who did not necessarily share the same right-wing viewpoints as the protestors, at first glance. He was however, very much immersed in the world of guns – as evidenced by his frequent social media postings and from the cache seized from his home. He also held anti-Islam views, which may have very well contributed to the eventual triple murder he committed.
From amongst the crowds at these protests, the social media pages that glorify the actions of these haters – all it takes is one unhinged individual to decide to “take matters into their own hands.” The constant inundation of anti-Islam rhetoric that seeps through media outlets, such as Fox News has proven to negatively shape the perception of Islam and Muslims to its viewers. A case-study in this effect would be Randolph Linn – who attempted to torch a mosque in Ohio. After he was arrested, he claimed that all he knew of Islam – was through watching Fox News. If the overlap between gun-culture and Islamophobia continue to persist – it is inevitable that more crimes like Chapel Hill may take place.
Bracing For More Protests
Tempe Mosque-goers are now bracing for the next round of protests that will show up outside the mosque. This combination of fear and frustration is understandably making the congregation uneasy, at a place where they are supposed to feel most at home. With very little assurance of help from local police – it looks as though there is a very poor understanding by law enforcement as to the pervasive nature of Islamophobia in modern society. There has been a massive outpouring of support from the interfaith community in the Phoenix area – which is a step in the right direction. Local Muslims hope that this will usher in a meaningful dialogue of just how deeply the phenomenon of Islamophobia impacts our community, and how we can overcome the hate.
This post first appeared on Imraan Siddiqi’s website Stop Islamophobia Now!