In July, the day after the downtown ambush that killed five police officers, Imam Omar Suleiman stood in front of the crowd boiling under a lunchtime sun at Thanks-Giving Square and wondered: “Does it always have to be hatred that forces us to love?”
I’ve thought about that often since that day, because the answer — increasingly, it seems — is yes.
Maybe not hatred, exactly, or always, but something close enough. A lack of empathy, a selfishness. People don’t talk to each other; they talk past them, listening only for an opening to speak. I’m willing to admit I’ve done this — I do this — but I’m trying. What I’m saying is, right now, we need more uniters and far fewer dividers, and in Imam Omar Suleiman, we have a great one.
He wasn’t the only person to speak in July, sharing the microphone with Mayor Mike Rawlings, state Sen. Royce West, Rabbi David Stern from Temple Emanu-El, and others. But Suleiman is the one I remembered when I left, the one whose words stuck with me the longest.
Suleiman wasn’t the only one who spoke at a candlelight vigil, again at Thanks-Giving Square, on Monday night. Judge Clay Jenkins, several local preachers, the IRC of Dallas‘ director, Donna Duvin, and Nesreen Obaid, a refugee from Iraq, all took turns speaking. Obaid — who fled Baghdad, where she was an engineer, in 2012 — was particularly riveting.
“I believe in this country,” she said. “We have been searching for [peace] for a long long time and we still dream about this and dream we will live in peace against all the harm.”
But once more I was taken by Suleiman. “You might tell me to go back home,” he said early on, “and I would tell you, I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I love it very much.”
Suleiman — who was at the protests at DFW Airport over the weekend brought on by President Trump’s executive order, and has visited Syrian refugees near the Jordanian border — could very well be consumed by anger. Maybe you think he should be. But he was composed, resolute in his stand against those who treat his brothers and sisters as the other, but determined not to be broken.
“The same dehumanization that allows us to neglect millions of people abroad,” he said, “allows us to discriminate against millions of people here at home.
“Dehumanization is to speak of Muslims only in the context of national security, rather than as people who have families, careers, and dreams just like you. I want you to look at me, and I don’t want you to look at me with pity. I want you to look at me with love and respect and to see me as your equal, as an American just like you. It is dehumanization that allows for Muslims to be spoken of as terrorists, Mexicans as rapists, black people as thugs.
“It is dehumanization that allows us to judge one another before we even hear a word out of one another’s mouths. Indeed, every form of racism and every phobia is deeply rooted in our inability to see each other as people, as human beings.”
Near the end, Suleiman put it more plainly: “Let me say to you that Donald Trump will never make me hate you. And I hope that no politician will ever make you hate me.”