Gun-toting anti-Muslim activists held a protest outside the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas, on Saturday, raising tensions in the former town of "clock kid" Ahmed Mohamed, where rifts between a Sharia-fearing public and a growing Muslim community have been highlighted by Mayor Beth Van Duyne's calls to ban the mosque's mediation panels.
Police were on hand in the Center's parking lot, with SWAT teams on standby, to allay worshippers' fears as roughly a dozen armed activists, some in face masks, lined the sidewalk. One carried a sign reading "Stop the Islamization of America."
Organizer David Wright, who cited the Paris attacks and rumors of Syrian refugees coming to Texas as reasons for the protest, said he had brought his 12-gauge shotgun because "We do want to show force," according to the Dallas Morning News. "It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves," he said.
Several other protesters, who collectively called themselves the Bureau of American Islamic Relations, brought guns as well, from an AR-15 to hunting rifles.
Mr. Wright said the Bureau had tried to talk with the mosque's leaders about the protests, but without success.
Throughout the day, most Center visitors avoided the protesters, as the Dallas Morning News' Avi Selk reported:
The Islamic Center was founded in 1992, according to its website, and serves many of the city's 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims. The suburb is just minutes away from Dallas, where approximately 1 percent of the population is Muslim, compared to 78 percent Christian and 1 percent Jewish.
In September, Irving teenager Ahmed Mohamed's arrest for bringing a homemade clock to school became national news. School officials feared that the device was a bomb, but many, including 29 members of Congress, alleged that anti-Islamic bias had factored into school administrators' handling of the incident.
The Mohamed family has since announced that they will move to Qatar, where the Qatar Foundation's Young Innovators Programme will sponsor Ahmed's secondary and undergraduate education.
Earlier this winter, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne attracted both praise and criticism for frequently arguing that the city's Muslims were establishing Sharia law courts, and pushing Texan legislation to prohibit family law courts within the state's mosques from from using foreign laws that conflict with American ones.
No "court" exists at the Islamic Center. The ICI does, however, participate in a Dallas mediation program meant to arbitrate disputes between Muslims, similar to faith-based arbitration programs at some churches and synagogues. The tribunal's advice is not legally binding, not in opposition to US law, and voluntary; clients pay for its services.
The controversy, which went national thanks to Van Duyne's talks with conservative television personality Glenn Beck, have led to threats against the ICI community.
Wright, the protest's organizer, and a fellow activist calling himself Big Daddy Infidel told reporter Avi Selk that they believed local Muslims had made death threats against Van Duyne. However, the Dallas Morning News found no evidence for the claim.
The ICI's homepage currently features a condemnation of the Paris attacks.
As it is clearly stated in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, chapter five, verse 32: "If any one slays a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slays the whole of mankind: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind." We sincerely hope that the perpetrators, whether they were directly or indirectly involved, are brought to a swift justice.
Texas has become a hotbed for so called Open Carry Rallies, where gun-rights supporters conspicuously show off their weapons: a move they say highlights fundamental rights, while others criticize them for alarming tactics, intimidation, and putting bystanders at risk.
In January, gun owners with concealed handgun licenses will be able to legally display their guns in public. Despite having many relatively loose gun protection laws, the Lone Star State previously forbade open carry for handguns, leading many supporters to show off their semiautomatic weapons, instead.
In 2014, the debate between gun rights supporters and gun control advocates became especially heated as open-carry demonstrators took to using chain stores, from Target to Chipotle, while displaying their weapons, causing many customers to ask companies to forbid guns on their private property.
In June 2014, the National Rifle Association condemned such tactics, saying they "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness."
"Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That’s not the Texas way. And that’s certainly not the NRA way," a website statement read.
However, the NRA later retracted the comments.