I had the honor to be invited by event co-chairman Imam Shamsi Ali of the 96th Street Mosque
to walk with participants and speak with leaders and invited guests at the 22nd American Muslim Day Parade.
When I tried to read back through news reportage of the event, I was STARTLED to see the coverage! It was covered as a controversial strife-riven event full of protest and ire! In fact, it was impossible to find a single news article that described the event in a way that even remotely resembled my experience (and I stayed with the parade and stage events from beginning to end).
It was a sunny, balmy Sunday. The event began with midday prayers for the faithful prior to the start of the actual parade, after which press was invited in to meet and interview the organizers. At the lead of parade was a color guard of bright flags, then Muslim members of the New York City Police, followed by three lines of dignitaries, and then all others.
Security on the streets was remarkably sparse. In fact the only time I saw police was at intersections to help coordinate marchers and cross-town traffic as lights changed.
The parade traversed a short distance (42nd street to 24th street) at a slow, leisurely pace, for the most part in silence or simple conversation among those walking.
At one point there was suddenly a shrill, angy little group shouting "No Sharia in America." They caught me off guard. I couldn't make out more than a small handful of people, and even at our snail's pace, they faded in the distance in just a moment or two. Across the street from the one angry group was another equally angry group only this second one I think were folks who think of themselves as Muslims. The funny thing was that they too were reviling the people in the parade. Apparent the second angry group was full of rage that the Muslims in the parade failed to be sufficiently hateful to their non-Muslim detractors from the other side of the street.
I felt like we had passed momentarily through some Alice in Wonderland-like bubble of anger, as we ambled quietly and peacefully down the street.
We got to the stage, prayers and scripture was read, the national anthem was sung by two beautiful, humble young ladies in hijab, the MC occasionally explained a little about Muslim terms or traditions, and a bunch of people spoke from the mike. I spoke too representing the Universal Peace Federation, and the Family Federation for World Peace.
I guess the most interesting thing about the day was the fact that Mayor Bloomberg stood down a letter writing campaign, and perhaps other political pressures to cancel the parade. In response he declared the day American Muslim Day, and sent a cabinet representative to march from beginning to end, and at the end on stage read and present the Mayor's declaration.
As I say, it was very hard to find any reportage matching my experience, but this one article at least is not completely crazy. In it one reads:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded to the critics [saying] "Muslims are a "vital part of our city... "It would be a terrible mistake for anyone to implicate a whole group of innocent individuals -- no matter what their faith -- with the terrible acts committed on September 11, 2001."
Here is a little personal slide show with a few images from the parade: