Murfreesboro, Tennessee is a Nashville suburb with a significant Muslim community, one that has worshipped in catch-as-catch-can arenas for some time and finally figured that it might be better to build a genuine house of worship, replete with ancillary social and academic facilities. They are a peaceful lot that didn’t even generate the kind pan-anti-Islamic enmity that followed the 9-11 attacks. That is until they proposed a 52,900 Islamic center. The flying fecal matter hit a rapidly spinning fan almost immediately.
"Keep Tennessee Terror Free" read one sign at a recent protest. More ugly signs appeared: “In Tennessee, three plans for new Islamic centers in the Nashville area -- one of which was ultimately withdrawn -- have provoked controversy and outbursts of ugliness. Members of one mosque discovered a delicately rendered Jerusalem cross spray-painted on the side of their building with the words ‘Muslims go home.’... The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro became a hot-button political issue during this month's primary election, prompting failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey to ask whether Islam was a ‘cult.’ Another candidate paid for a billboard high above Interstate 24 near Nashville that read: ‘Defeat Universal Jihad Now.’ … Evangelist Pat Robertson weighed in [on August 19th], wondering on his television program whether a Muslim takeover of America was imminent and whether local officials could be bribed. (The mayor of the county where the Islamic Center is proposed called that idea ‘ridiculous.’).” Washington Post (August 23rd).
The members of the Murfreesboro Islamic community have always been the kind of “extremist-avoiding” Muslims most Americans hope is the condition of the rest of the Islamic world, but actions like these strong protests – from the “keep the Muslims out of ground zero” movement (dozens of innocent Muslims died in the 9-11 attacks in New York, by the way) to the Murfreesboro protests – pretty much exacerbate the tensions between Muslims outside the United States and us for no particularly good reason. The press in the already-vehemently anti-American parts of the Arab and Pakistani worlds is having a field day with American religious intolerance and bigotry, as Americans make a mockery of their own First Amendment. How many American soldiers or innocent civilians will die as extreme militants’ ire rises to justify their attacks on our citizens by reason of our intolerance? How many new attacks does our hypocrisy invite?
Murfreesboro is a small town with about 100,000 people. The Muslim community is small but vibrant: “The 250 or so families -- about 1,000 people -- who worship at the existing Islamic Center come from around the globe and include doctors, car salesmen and students from nearby Middle Tennessee State University. Members of the mosque have raised about $600,000 to buy land and prepare the site for a 10,000-square-foot gathering place. Plans for a school, pool and cemetery are expected to take years to complete.” The Post. The mosque pictured above, by the way, is in Los Angeles. The apartment where the Murfreesboro Muslims currently worship wasn’t quite so photogenic.
The weekend of August 28-29th wasn’t so nice to this Muslim community: “After a suspected arson and reports of gunshots at an Islamic center in Tennessee over the weekend, nearby mosques have hired security guards, installed surveillance cameras and requested the presence of federal agents at prayer services. …Muslim leaders in central Tennessee say that frightened worshipers are observing Ramadan in private and that some Muslim parents are wary of sending their children to school after a large fire on Saturday that destroyed property at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Federal authorities suspect that the fire was arson.” New York Times (August 30th). “A group of teenagers in western New York have been accused of harassing members of a mosque by yelling obscenities and insults during evening prayers for Ramadan, sideswiping a worshiper with a vehicle and firing a shotgun outside [on Monday the 30th].” NY Times (August 31st). Yeah, America, land of the free and the home of the brave.
Either we believe in American ideals – promulgated under the Constitution or we do not. We can believe in our hearts that our system of government, protection of the minority while still allowing a rule by the majority, or not. But if what we cherish is American democracy, we must practice what we preach. It is the American way.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the Constitution is worth fighting for.