Texas man holds ‘You Belong’ sign outside mosque to show solidarity with Muslim neighbours

When Justin Normand was photographed outside the Islamic Center of Irving holding a sign, the image spread like wildfire.

“You Belong. Stay Strong. Be Blessed. We are one America,” read the sign.

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The 53-year-old, who manages a sign shop, told CBS that he felt the need to show his support to his Muslim neighbours after he believed the rhetoric around Muslim-Americans became hateful.

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“Especially following the election to see and to hear the most outrageous things being put forth as truth about this particular community … What seemed glaring was the fact that people were saying that these people were something that they’re not,” said Normand.

During the American presidential campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump threatened to ban all Muslims entering the U.S. and later said he would create a database of Muslim-Americans.

Normand said he didn’t know anyone who attended that particular Islamic centre but said several people came out to talk to him.

“The people who came out and greeted me and the people I have gotten to know seem very much more like Methodists than you would have thought!” he said with a laugh. “They are people like us.”

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A video posted to Facebook by Nick Pelletier, an outreach staffer at the Islamic centre, shows some of the interaction between Normand and worshippers.

“There’s not much I can do between now and four years from now but just to be your fellow citizen,” Normand said while holding his sign.

The Islamic Center of Irving was the site of armed anti-Muslim demonstrations last year, organized by a group that called itself the Bureau of American Islamic Relations “protesting the Islamization of America.”

While Normand believes that the majority of his community disagrees with such sentiments, he said he had to take action.

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“That people at large understand that the rhetoric is baloney doesn’t excuse the rhetoric and doesn’t mean we can be silent,” he said.

On Facebook, Normand explained why he did what he did.

“This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.”

“My neighbours needed to hear me say, ‘You belong,’” he said. “They may believe that they belong but if nobody else is saying that and there’s this horrible echo chamber saying that they don’t, there has to be a balancing voice.”

— With a file from Andrew Russell

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