Trump Policy Adds Tension at Capitol Muslim Day
By Danielle Smith
About 1,000 people gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday for Texas Muslim Capitol Day, but the biennial event had a heightened sense of tension because of President Donald Trump’s recently announced immigration order.
The rally coincides with the beginning of the Legislature and is usually a time for Muslims and supporters to introduce themselves to lawmakers and register opinions on proposed laws. It is sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
This year’s Muslim day came shortly after Trump banned immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria. The ban is for 120 days except for Syria, for which it is indefinite. The policy has prompted demonstrations across the U.S. and world.
“I was stunned, shocked, frankly I was discouraged that this is a message going out around the world and that our leader of the free world initiated an action that was excluding a whole people,” said the Rev. Dr. Barry Click, a retired Baptist minister living in Austin.
Tuesday’s rally was peaceful, though at one point a man tried to shout his disagreement at the crowd. Members of Indivisible Austin, a local group that opposes Trump’s policies, clapped their hands and drowned him out. In 2015, a man grabbed the speaker’s microphone and yelled an anti-Islam insult.
Tensions among Muslim Texans were higher this year for other reasons. Freshman state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, a Fredericksburg Republican, held a “security forum” at the Capitol last week “to better understand the critical threat of radical Islamic terrorism in Texas.”
Biedermann issued a statement Tuesday saying he is “against any discrimination based upon religion, race or gender.”
Tensions have been further heightened by unexplained fires at two mosques in Texas—in Lake Travis, near Austin, and in Victoria—in January. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hasn’t released the results of its investigation into either fire.
Weam Elasmar, 18, traveled to the Capitol rally from Houston with her mother, three sisters and a brother, skipping school to do so.
“It’s not a fight … we are just standing here to show our support for each other,” Elasmar said. “[R]ight when I saw this I was like this is love… this is the real American spirit.”
Ruth Waddy, an Austin artist, was standing near the Capitol front steps. She has pledged to walk from her South Austin home to the Capitol 100 times to deliver postcards to senators from neighbors with opinions on state issues. Tuesday was day six for Waddy.
“The hardest part is being good and kind and gentle myself. Yesterday, I was super angry, and I walked real angry,” Waddy said.