I was touched by the unity and resolve displayed by our Tampa community at last week's Hillsborough County School Board meeting, when many diverse community leaders spoke out against bigotry and censorship and in support of an inclusive guest speaker policy.
For the past few months, protesters representing only a small segment of public opinion used the School Board meetings to promote conspiracy theories and false allegations against Islam and Muslims.
Their fear of Muslims and serious misinformation about Islam led them to push for a policy censoring all advocacy groups from visiting our public schools to speak on relevant topics the students are studying. When asked on camera, protesters like Terry Kemple claimed that their problem was only with America's largest Muslim civil rights group, not with all Muslims.
However, at least half of the statements made by Kemple and his supporters were attacks on the entire Muslim faith and people, not any particular Muslim group. Even worse, I felt they were really attacking the American principles of pluralism and freedom of religion. These are the principles I have taken an oath to protect and are the reasons why my family chose to immigrate to America from Syria.
But on Tuesday we saw an outpouring of diverse supporters who asked the School Board not to give in to anti-Muslim prejudices. The supporters represented many faiths, organizations and ethnicities.
The Hillsborough County School Board refused to give in to fearmongering. Our success sends a strong message that we in Tampa will not allow ignorance, fear and misunderstanding to divide us.
My only wish now is that those who fear us would come and get to know us. We are one community, and we must stand united despite our differences to foster an environment where all people can live free without fear, prejudice and hatred.
Hassan Shibly, CAIR Florida, Tampa