During the American Civil War, the border state of Tennesse was bitterly divided, with pockets of pro-Union sentiment strongly opposing the secessionist majority. Today, the residents of the city of Murfreesboro are not about to take up arms against each other, but a peaceful war of words is heating up over a proposed mosque and Islamic center.
Opponents of the planned expansion by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro say they are concerned about zoning issues and the possibility of excessive traffic. But during a protest against the center on Wednesday, several hundred marchers carried signs with slogans such as “MOSQUE LEADERS SUPPORT KILLING CONVERTS,” while others wore “Vote for Jesus” t-shirts or waved “Don’t tread on me” flags. Some expressed fears that the mosque could become a center for terrorism.
Protest leader Kevin Fisher, an African-American, insisted that his main concern was over possible soil and water contamination resulting from a single burial that had been carried out on the property “without a casket of proper embalming.”
“This has nothing to do with racism or religious intolerance at all,” Fisher stated. “”Religion. Race. These are just code words … used to distract from the real issues.”
But other marchers were less discreet. “In Islam, a mosque means ‘We have conquered this country,’” one man told the local CNN affiliate. “And where are they? They’re in the center of Tennessee. They’re going to say, ‘We have conquered Tennessee.’”
And Claire Rogers of Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom — which organized a slightly larger counter-protest — noted that “no one marches to a courthouse to deliver a petition based on traffic concerns. … It’s a result of Islamaphobia and misinformation about local Islamic community.”
Supporters of the Islamic Center carried signs reading “I love my Muslim neighbors” and “Freedom of religion.” One told reporters, “My family came here in 1648 — for religious freedom — from Scotland. That we have to be here for this today is sad.”
Fisher has filed a grievance against the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission, claiming that it failed to provide adequate public notice before it considered the site plans at a May 24 hearing. The commission’s director, however, has already responded that since no zoning changes were involved, the small notice posted in a local paper satisfied all legal requirements.
The campaign manager for Republican congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik has also criticized the commission, and Zelenik’s Democratic opponent, Iraq War veteran Ben Leming, charges that she is attempting to use the issue to divide the community.
“What do we have to be afraid of?” Leming told a local paper. “During my deployments around the world, I have worked, trained, and broken bread with Muslims. … The people that want to build a house of worship in Murfreesboro are not the enemy.”
This video is from CNN, posted July 15, 2010.