Invitations went out from the Prince George’s County Muslim Council, flyers were texted from phone to phone, an ad was placed on the Indivisible website for the a town hall with Congressmen Steny Hoyer and Anthony Brown at the Diyanet Center of America in Lanham, Md., on February 19, 2017.
Many local constituents, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the event. Both the electors and the elected asked each other – ‘how can we help you?’ Organizers were disappointed with number of Muslims in the audience.
The Congressmen Hoyer and Brown, both Democrats, stayed for an hour longer than scheduled, assuring constituents of their support and commitment to stall legislation that harms them. Muslims in the audience asked for a promise that their elected officials will address anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism at a national level.
Unlike the disruptive town halls that Republican representatives have faced around the country, this one was calmer, even as the concerns were similar. Congressman Dr Andy Harris’s staff has faced crowds outside his district office as his constituents demanded to know the whereabouts of the missing elected official.
“We have no so called judges, we have judges,” said Democratic Whip Hoyer, who represents the 5th District, referring to the President’s disregard for American institutions such as the judiciary and the press. Congressperson Brown, who ran for Maryland Governor in the last election, thanked the 4th congressional district and referred to the executive action as “hate based”.
CASA de Maryland was present at DCA. “Discrimination against one will ultimately be discrimination against all. Latino and Muslims are on the same boat, we are all on the same boat, “ said the representative.
Hoyer said he accuses Steve Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, of fomenting racists into action. In his statement at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, in Virginia, Bannon said “The center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy. Not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.” Double speak for white nationalism, say experts. He pointed at Steve Miller on the White House Staff as another tool in the supremacy chest.
A woman drove up from Carroll County to bring up a local issue. The Shepard Fairey posters showcasing diverse American women were put up teachers to promote diversity and were taken down by principal at Westminster High School at Carol County School District as anti-Trump. “[T]his is seeping down to the schools,” stressed the concerned county resident. (CAIR followed up on her concern by calling on Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education to uphold free speech by instructing school administrators to allow educators and students to display pro-diversity posters.)
Much was discussed about the impact these policies, especially the Muslim Ban, were having on America’s status as an international leader. Brown, who has spent time on active duty in Iraq, stated that the King of Jordan has expressed concern. He said that national security is at risk. “How does US get intelligence on the ground in trouble spots around the globe, if [partners] can not trust us because of the ban.” It makes it very difficult to achieve national and strategic interest, said Brown. Because of the ban all sorts of international travelers are “feeling the chill”.
“Refugee ban has made us less safe,” echoed Hoyer, who is the son of Danish immigrants.
Unfortunately, Congressman Hoyer used the word “Islamic militant” to describe extremists such as Daeesh. This was not well received by the Muslims in the audience. Both Congressmen reiterated their staunch support for Israel when a constituent asked about the recent appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and the aggressive expansion of settlements in Palestinian lands. They insisted that any condemnation should include both sides and no mention was made of Palestine or its people’s suffering.
A concern raised by Marylanders was the silence of Governor Hogan on the Muslim Ban and the plight of the undocumented. Hogan’s modus operandi is to deny that this is a Marylander issue or that they care about it, said Brown, agreeing with the audience. Brown, whose father was a Cuban immigrant, is Maryland’s former Lt. Governor.
Prince George’s County resident, Senegalese-American lawyer Madeleine Dieng, who is a special needs educator, asked for a permanent liaison for the Muslim community. “We want assurance that we will have something concrete so that our voice will be heard.” Hoyer pointed to a Pakistani-American on his staff, Sana Mirza.
In the audience was recently retired Corey Flintoff, National Public Radio’s international correspondent, who spent the past five years in Russia. “Russia is far bigger threat to the United States, he said to the applause from the audience.
An African American immigration lawyer asked why foreign governments could not freeze the President’s assets. “We have frozen other leaders’ assets, so what is good for the goose or the gander,” she said.
Hoyer reminded the full hall that the Congress was Republican controlled. Some felt empowered after the town hall, while others left feeling like the Democrats could not do much to stop the President.
Dr Rehan Khan of Masjid Al Falah, who served in the emergency room where victims were taken after the 9//11 attack on the Pentagon, demanded that the Congressmen assure him that Muslims would not face problems going on pilgrimage due to Trump’s policies. He shared that ICU victim of hate crime.
An immigrant from Libya, Dr Tagouri, came to the mic where a long line of questioners stood patiently for their turn and said that Trump reminds him of Moammar Qaddafi. “It hurts me to see the anti-Semitism and antiracism,” he added.
A constituent brought up gerrymandering. Maryland's districts, drawn by Democrats, are particularly egregious examples of the practice. Brown addressed this, “Fixing the district has to be done nation wide.” They pushed for national dialogue over state specific concerns. Immigration, African American deaths by police, and the future of the Affordable Care Act were all concerns brought up.
‘I don’t have a religious test for DNC head,” said Hoyer, who supported the now elected, establishment pick, former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez of Maryland. He said he chose Keith Ellison, who represents a more Progressive movement in the party, as Chief Deputy Whip when Hoyer was majority whip. “Loyalty means a lot of me – Perez was loyal to Marylanders,” commented Brown.
Dr Zainab Chaudry of CAIR, a co sponsor of the town hall, asked about the morality of the ban and what our Congressmen are doing to alleviate the effects of the Muslim ban.
Congressman Hoyer shared that he led a rally at the Supreme Court and called the Muslim ban immoral. His message was that the Democrats have not been silent.
Jameel Aalim-Johnson of Prince Georges’ County Muslims Council, who organized and moderated the town hall, asked about attempts by far right as a tool to destabilize and Muslim organizations. The Congressmen assured the audience that these bills would not make any progress and Democrats would oppose such legislation.
The Prince George’s County Muslim Council appreciated the open and vigorous support for the concerns of the Muslim community by the Congressional Representatives of Prince George's County. “The religious, racial, and ethnic diversity of the attendees that filled the auditorium to near capacity was another recent example of people of good intentions coming together to oppose what they believe are unjust policies inconsistent with the goal of unity for which our nation should be striving,” read a statement.
“As the Muslim community faces a direct assault against the practice of Islam in America by the Executive branch, the next two to four years will be telling in terms of involvement within our own communities,” says Aalim-Johnson. “While nationally and locally, many people of other faiths have been rigorous in their challenge to the assault on our civil liberties, as evidenced by their significant attendance with only a few days notice, within Prince George's County the Muslim presence has been limited. The town hall meeting was the first step in understanding how our political leaders are addressing issues directly affecting us.”
Aalim Johnson was surprised that an overwhelming majority of Muslims still did not attend ‘despite seeing how the strike of a pen can significantly affect our lives’.
“The attendance of Muslims alone should have well exceeded the capacity of the facility. Our necessary and steadfast reliance upon Allah does not preclude taking positive action on our own behalf; it requires it,” he added.