CAIR-OK, a local American-Islamic relations organization, was met with hate when it participated in the Tulsa Veteran’s Day parade with the intention of supporting American troops. This response was completely unwarranted.

CAIR-Oklahoma is the Oklahoma branch of the National Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR-Oklahoma emphasizes building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims—which is important in a state where anti-Islam sentiments run rampant.

Their website makes it clear that their goal is “to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.”

CAIR’s primary focus is on building peaceful, respectful relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. They work to decrease Islamophobia, increase acceptance and fight for civil liberties. They are an important voice in Oklahoma’s social justice community and they play a necessary role in creating safety for Muslims living here.

CAIR is incredibly important.

This past Wednesday, CAIR-Oklahoma had the opportunity to participate in the Tulsa Veteran’s Day Parade.

The announcement of their appearance was met with much hatred, including comments on the CAIR-OK Facebook page and Veterans’ Day parade event page such as, “I can not believe that Tulsa let those Terrorist’s parade with our veterans!!!” and “I hear CAIR on television. They are pro Muslim brotherhood and seek the overthrow of America.” Way to keep it classy, Oklahoma.

When one of CAIR-OK’s board members in Tulsa was asked whether CAIR would be interested in sponsoring a float in the parade, CAIR Events and Operations Coordinator Anna Facci said, “…there wasn’t any hesitation on our part—it seemed like a great opportunity for us to honor our veteran community members and all veterans.”

Contrary to what many Facebook commenters would have you believe, CAIR-OK sponsored a float in the parade not as a political statement, but as a way to honor veterans (much like every other participant in the parade).

Facci made it very clear that CAIR-OK was frustrated by the media attention their participation received. Their goal was not to make a statement or gain attention, but to support veterans. The media attention CAIR-OK’s participation received was attention that should have gone to the sacrifices of veterans.

Facci stated, “…we did not want the media attention and the negativity. We wanted the focus to be on our veterans who sacrifice to keep us safe.”

The goal of CAIR-OK participating in the parade was to express their support of veterans and to make clear that all Americans, including Muslim Americans, support our veterans.

CAIR-OK receives Islamophobic, hateful calls or emails at least once a week, and they receive hate-filled messages on their Facebook page effectively every day.

It seems pretty clear that CAIR-OK is not the problem in this scenario, but rather the people who would make assumptions about an entire group of people based on the actions of a tiny handful of people.

Their Facebook page includes comments like: “Will be glad when the cult known as islam is removed from the face of the earth…” and “I pray for the day the Muslim faith is eradicated! Get out of America we don’t want you here!!!!”

Really, Oklahoma? As a Christian Oklahoman, I want to state for the record that not all Christians are that dumb. And, as a Christian, I would hate if people assumed I was complicit in behaviors committed by other members of my religion.

Facci further said, “Many of the people who objected to our participation were already prejudiced against Muslims and CAIR but the event gave them the platform on which to amplify their hate.”

Facci is not Muslim, and she states that, “my friends who are hijabi or otherwise ‘visibly Muslim’…have considerably more experience about the type of anti-Muslim sentiment present [in Oklahoma]”. The hate CAIR-OK receives is only the tip of an iceberg that reveals some truly horrifying facts about the state of prejudice in Oklahoma.”

Facci did say that, although CAIR-OK receives a lot of hate, they also have, “an amazing community of Muslims and non-Muslims” who support them.

Much like in the fight for LGBTQ rights or the elimination of racism, allies are so important in this situation. The people who are oppressed should not always have to speak for themselves, and there is much support for CAIR-OK through various interfaith organizations in the state.

CAIR-OK experienced hate on the day of the parade as well—a handful of protesters showed up. One of the protesters, Jim Gillis, said a number of hateful things through a bullhorn, particularly about Muslim women. He made the claim that Muslim women are not allowed to associate with non-Muslim women.

One of Facci’s friends, Aliye Shimi, who wears a hijab, responded, “I love my non-Muslim sisters.” Facci stated that Shimi’s endurance and positivity made the parade experience, overall, far more uplifting than she had expected.

It is overwhelming to me that when a group of Oklahoma’s Muslims and non-Muslim allies would attempt to express their support for our troops, they would be met with hate and terror.

Our veterans are fighting for, among other things, religious freedom. CAIR-OK’s freedom to participate in the parade is a prime example that our soldiers are succeeding.

I am a Christian, and I support our troops and Oklahoma’s Muslim community.