Hundreds turned out on the state Capitol lawn Saturday afternoon to rally for and against the US taking Syrian refugees.
Arkansans in support of refugees easily outnumbered those against. Around 200 people signed their names to posters calling for compassion for war-ravaged Syrians. About 30 people stood 100 feet away, with signs that read “No Jihad in Dixie.”
Tamer Alsebai is a physician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he moved from Syria to the US in 1995. He flipped the conservative argument that accepting refugees is bowing to PC culture,
“We can not discriminate against one nation and one religion because at this moment it’s politically correct not to have them here,” said Alsebai.
Dr. Alsebai says his family is paying the price for escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“My wife, she wears a scarf and yesterday she was leaving Walgreens here on University Avenue and a male came at her and starting shouting, ‘Taliban, Taliban.’ She ran away and fortunately he did not follow her but she was scared. That was the first time it happened to us,” Alsebai said. “It was a scary moment.”
Caleb Bryan is a retail employee in Conway who organized the counter protest through Facebook.
“I’m not against the people who already live here. I’m against the people that are trying to come in more because until we take care of the people that already here - Muslim, African-American, and Caucasian, it doesn’t matter their race - but we need to take care of people here first,” said Bryan.
Many of those opposed to Syrian refugees, like James Del Brock, had harsher things to say about Muslims.
“I believe that Muslims are taught to lie and become part of society until their numbers grow to the point that they can dominate,” said Del Brock who organizes Confederate flag rallies in Hot Springs. “If they believe in the Quran they do not believe in what America stands for, period.”
It’s attitudes like that Dr. Alsebai says require Muslim Arkansans to be more vigilant.
“My wife at certain times after dark she will not leave the house. We will change our plan. We will not go shopping far away from our house. It is scary, we have children and she takes them to school back and forth and I’m worried about her safety and my kids nowadays."
The Southern white nationalist League of the South also had a contingent waving an array flags. For their Arkansas chair RG Miller, the threat of terrorism from refugees isn’t all it’s about – the very idea of multiculturalism is the target.
MILLER: The Southern people are the descendants of Europeans who conquered the Southern portions of North America from the 17th and 18th centuries onward.
KAUFFMAN: So black people are not Southern?
MILLER: In the strictest sense of the word, no. They’re not the Southern people no. Neither are Arabs, neither are Chinese, neither are Middle Easterners, neither are Bulgarians or Russians or Ukrainians or Germans.