Archive for Murfreesboro

Church shows support for Murfreesboro Islamic Center

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by loonwatch

Those who seek peace, harmony and co-existence will overcome the voices of hate and bigotry, especially when members of different faiths and perspectives gather together and lend each other a hand.

(via. IslamophobiaToday.com)

Church shows support for Murfreesboro Islamic Center

Christian and Muslim leaders came together to support the Murfreesboro Islamic community and imam Ossama Bahloul Sunday afternoon at The Village Church in East Nashville. “We just really wanted to reach out to him and to let him know that we cared about his community and him and that we would be praying with them,” said Dr. Andrew Anyabwile, Village Church pastor.

On Tuesday, a Rutherford County judge nullified the permit to build a multimillion dollar Islamic center in Murfreesboro after ruling that not enough public notice was given before a planning commission meeting where the construction was approved.

“It seems like the Muslim community being singled out in this because we did follow the exact process of everyone else,” said Ossama Bahloul, the Murfreesboro Islamic center imam. “If we respect our constitution, then we’ll have no choice but to support each other because the freedom of religion is the core of our constitution.”

While the congregation at the Village Church had a very vocal support for the imam’s words, the Murfreesboro Islamic center still has plenty of opponents. “If they’re this peaceful, loving religion, that they claim they are, they need to abide by the laws that all of us have to,” said attorney Joe Brandon, who has been representing clients that oppose the construction of the Islamic center.

Brandon has voiced several controversial claims like the stance that Islam was not an actual religion, and the group is out to spread Sharia law. “Sharia law provides that their law dominates the law of Tennessee, the laws of all 50 states, the law of the U.S. constitution,” Brandon said.

“It seems like this is a small group with a very vocal voice against the freedom of religion in Murfreesboro,” Bahloul said. “But I am really optimistic because I know that what’s right will prevail by the end.” Bahloul said he hopes the Islamic center will open in July to celebrate the month of Ramadan.

WZTV, 4 June 2012

See also “Murfreesboro mosque ruling stirs confusion”, The Tennessean, 3 June 2012

Murfreesboro Mosque Saga Continues: Judge Voids Planning Commission’s Approval

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by loonwatch

County Judge Robert Corlew III decided to void the county planning commission’s approval of the mosque project based not on the Mosque opponents wacky claims about stealth-jihad, islamization, Islam not being a religion, etc., but the narrow reason that the county did not give “adequate public notice about a request to build the mosque.” That is a helluva lot more rational reason than the hyperbolic, fear-mongering, hate-filled nonsense that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the Lou Ann Zelenik anti-Murfreesboro mosque camp.

The judge did not however call for “construction to be stopped” and so County and Mosque officials are saying construction will continue for the time being:

County says it won’t order halt to mosque construction

by Bob Smietana (The Tennessean)

UPDATE: Rutherford County has no immediate plans revoke the building permit for an embattled Murfreesboro mosque.

“The county is going to look at all the possibilities,” said Jim Cope, attorney for Rutherford County. “This could take weeks.”

Construction at the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was set to continue today, despite a judge’s decision that voided the county planning commission’s approval of the project. But the judge did not order a stop to the construction.

Opponents of the mosque want construction to end immediately. Mosque officials say the work will continue until they get official word to stop.

“There are two sides here that disagree,” said Cope. “The county is not the umpire here.”

Cope said that county officials are waiting for a court order from Judge Robert Corlew III before taking their next step. They could file a motion to reconsider or appeal the judge’s decision.

Blocking the mosque project could lead to a federal lawsuit under the religious anti-discrimination laws.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this,” said Cope.

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED

A judge says the Rutherford County planning commission violated state law by not giving adequate public notice about a request to build a mosque in Murfreesboro. But the judge did not say whether work on the building has to stop.

Mosque supporters and opponents disagree on whether the ruling means construction work at the site should stop immediately until there is another planning meeting to discuss the request again. Essam Fathy, head of the construction committee for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said workers will return to the Veals Road site today to continue building the 52,960-square-foot mosque because no one in county government has told them to stop. “This has all come as a big surprise,” he said.

Fathy said there is still about six weeks of work left on the first phase of the project — 12,000 square feet — which began in September.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Rutherford County Building Codes Department had not revoked the mosque’s building permit.

But Joe Brandon, attorney for the plaintiffs who filed suit against the county in 2010 challenging the public notice process, said the judge’s ruling means the work cannot legally continue. “At the present time, they (congregation members) are in violation of the law if they as much as lift a hammer,” Brandon said.

Brandon said the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was not a named party in the lawsuit and that’s probably why the judge’s order doesn’t specifically order construction halted.

But he said the judge’s ruling erases the site approval, and without that approval, the building permit should be invalid.

Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled Tuesday that the commission failed to give adequate public notice of a May 24, 2010, meeting. At that meeting, commissioners approved the new building plans for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. But the judge said the commission’s actions were “null and void.”

State law requires that government bodies provide adequate public notice of meetings, but it does not offer many specifics beyond that. Attorneys for Rutherford County have argued that the notice in the printed edition of the Murfreesboro Post and on the paper’s website met the notice requirements.

The county’s legal department did not return calls late Tuesday.

Jim Cope, Rutherford County attorney, told The Tennessean in July 2011 that if the site plan approval was revoked, then mosque leaders probably would have to reapply to the planning commission. Because the Veals Road site is already zoned for religious use, there would be no public hearing or comments on the site plan.

“What we’d have in effect is a ‘do-over,’ ” Cope said last year.

The county attorney also could appeal the decision.

‘A huge victory’

The judge said the commission can meet again to discuss the mosque project, as long as it gives proper notice to the public. Mosque opponents and other members of the public have a right to attend that meeting, but they don’t have the right to speak at the meeting, Corlew wrote. And any future decision by the commission can’t discriminate against members of the mosque, he said.

The next commission meeting is set for June 11.

Imam Osama Bahloul said leaders of the Islamic center would do whatever the county asked of them. “We want to obey the law,” he said. “We want to be good citizens.”

Brandon repeated his belief that the Islamic center is a political organization, not a religious group. “Today is a huge victory. It’s the first time that the political movement of Islam has been stopped in its tracks.”

If the Islamic center gets approved for a new site plan, he said, then the plaintiffs would file a new lawsuit. “They are in this for the long haul.”

Former SNL Star, Victoria Jackson, Questions Murfreesboro Mosque

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by loonwatch

Vistoria Jackson, best known as a cast member on SNL.

Victoria Jackson

I hope she’s trying to outdo Andy Kaufmann. This is not the first time Jackson spewed her anti-Muslim views.

Former SNL Star Questions Murfreesboro Mosque


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – She’s best known for her satirical comedy on Saturday Night Live. Twenty years after leaving the hit show, Victoria Jackson is back in the spotlight, but this time it’s for her political views.

She’s now a controversial conservative commentator and she’s in Middle Tennessee taking a critical look at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Victoria Jackson is best known for her dim-witted characters on Saturday Night live which brought her a lot of laughs, and fame. She now works as a citizen journalist.

“I’m trying to use my fading SNL fame to shine a light on the topic that nobody in the media will talk about,” said Jackson.

That topic is Islam. Jackson came to Middle Tennessee to produce a story on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and its new mosque now under construction. The comic-turned- conservative political activist doesn’t mince words about why she thinks this building is rising in the middle of rural Tennessee.

“This is the Bible Belt, and Murfreesboro is the buckle on the bible belt. And it’s a college town. So my feeling is they came here to convert people to Islam,” said Jackson.

Jackson brought her camera to the current Islamic Center offices in Murfreesboro — but no one was available for an interview. No luck either at the construction site just outside town.

Jackson did recently interview Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik for her story. Zelenik has been an outspoken opponent of the mosque. Jackson claims there’s a fatwa , or Islamic decree ,calling for her death because of her criticisms.

“I tolerate all religions. Except the ones that want to kill me,” said Jackson

Jackson plans to post her story on the conservative web site Patriot Update. 

Tennessee Congressional Race Gets 100 Percent More Anti-Shariah-y

Posted in Loon People, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2012 by loonwatch

We may have spoke to soon when we wrote that the Murfreesboro Mosque saga in Tennessee may be coming to an end.

Tennessee Congressional Race Gets 100 Percent More Anti-Shariah-y

By Tim Murphy (Mother Jones)

If you live in Middle Tennessee, get ready for another four months of overheated rhetoric about Islam. On Thursday, tea partier and anti-Shariah activist Lou Ann Zelenik announced that she’s challenging incumbent Rep. Diane Black (R), setting up a rematch of a 2010 GOP primary that focused heavily on the question of whether Muslims in Murfreesboro should be allowed to build a new mosque.

In that campaign, Zelenik lashed herself to the mosque issue, speaking at a march to protest the construction, and accusing Black of being soft on Shariah. As she told Talking Points Memo, “This isn’t a mosque. They’re building an Islamic center to teach Sharia law. That is what we stand in opposition to.” Zelenik feared that a new mosque in Murfreesboro would be a stepping stone to a more sinister end—the encroachment of radical Islam into Middle Tennessee. It wasn’t a winning issue, it turned out, but Zelenik’s argument resonated in the city. Later that year, a handful of residents filed a lawsuit to block the construction of the mosque, arguing that Muslims weren’t protected by the First Amendment because Islam is a totalitarian political system, not a religion (the Department of Justice was forced to file an amicus brief noting that, yes, Islam is a religion).

Although Black took a relatively moderate stance on the mosque when she ran for Congress, promising to respect Tennesseans’ freedom of religion, she has an anti-Islam history, too: as a state Senator, she sponsored Tennessee’s 2010 law designed to ban Islamic law from being enforced in state courts.

The added wrinkle here, which should give the primary an added degree of out-in-the-open animosity, is that until two weeks ago, Zelenik was being sued by Black’s husband. The suit centered on an ad Zelenik ran during the 2010 pointing out that then-state Sen. Black had steered contracts to her husband’s forensic science business. Black and his company, Aegis Sciences, considered this charge defamatory, but the court ruled that Zelenik’s spot was accurate, and in this case the truth was the only defense necessary. So: drama.

One quibble, though: The Murfreesboro News-Journal notes that Zelenik will step down from her job at the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, “a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization that has been instrumental in sounding the alarm over the growing Islamic movement in America and the threat of Sharia Law.” That’s not quite accurate, as there is no real threat from Shariah law in the United States. More accurately, TFC has been instrumental in running around stirring up fears over a phantom menace. This would be a small point, except that Murfreesboro isground-zero for the Islamophobia movement, so it’s something the local newspapers really ought to get right.

Murfreesboro Mosque Saga May be Finally Coming to an End

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on April 5, 2012 by loonwatch

A lot has happened since the Murfreesboro mosque first became a point of controversy for bigots and hatemongers. We hope to do a a feature piece summarizing the drama that played out over it, what it means for freedom of religion and the future in an upcoming article:

Attorneys ask judge to throw out legal challenge to Murfreesboro Islamic Center

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The final legal hurdle over construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro may be over.

County attorneys asked a judge to throw out the final legal challenge on Wednesday. Opponents have argued the county failed to give sufficient public notice before approving the project.

The judge will review the motion on April 19. County officials are hoping he will toss out a lawsuit that claims they did not give proper notice when approving building plans for the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.  Mosque opponents say they are readying a response.

Meanwhile, major progress has been made in construction of the center.  Distinctive arches have taken shape, the frame of the building is complete and workers are starting to put bricks around it.

“We are so excited,” said Imam Ossama Bahloul.  “I think when we have the new facility it will be a time for us to celebrate freedom of religion.”

Lou Ann Zelenik and her Sharia Conference gets turned down by 20 hotels

Posted in Loon People, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2011 by loonwatch
Cornerstone ChurchCornerstone Church

Action works against Islamophobes!: LoonWatch’s call to Action against Islamophobes.

Update: Geller withdrew from the “Shariah Conference,” (read below) and she also just withdrew from the Tea Party Convention in Florida. She is claiming victim status.

 

Madison church to host anti-Shariah conference

Written by Scott Broden

MURFREESBORO — Former congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik said Monday she has found a place to hold a freedom conference after getting turned down by 20 hotels.

Cornerstone Church in the Madison community on Nashville’s northeast side agreed to hold the event, “The Constitution or Sharia Conference.” The event will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 11.

“There was no room in the inn for freedom, but pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church opened his doors for free speech,” said Zelenik, who lost the 2010 Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin.

However, headliner Pamela Geller, who runs the Atlas Shrugs anti-Islam blog, has bowed out because the event is no longer at a secular venue.

“While I have nothing against speaking in a church per se, I refuse to have my message driven from the public square,” she wrote in an email.

Geller and Zelenik referred to Hutton Hotel’s decision last week to cancel booking for the event in Nashville, citing safety concerns.

“It was a poor decision by Hutton Hotel when they changed their story three times from what they initially told me,” Zelenik said. “Our goal is to expose and disclose the differences between Constitutional and Shariah law. Our conference recognizes the freedoms of all Americans, including Muslim women, because they have equal protection under our Constitutional law. I reject Islamic Shariah for any woman.”

Zelenik also criticized Islamic Center of Murfreesboro member Saleh Sbenaty, who described the conference as “hate speech.”

“Hate speech for what?” she said. “Does he hate our Constitution or does he hate Shariah law? I wonder how he would feel in Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iran with constitutional law competing with Shariah? Anyone who would try to bring in constitutional law in these countries would be imprisoned and/or put to death.”

Sbenaty, who works as a 19-year professor at MTSU in the Engineering Technology Department, said he referred to the gathering as a hate group because he’s concerned with the reputations of the speakers Zelenik has invited.

“I’d like to ask her does she want to associate herself with those who inspired Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 93 people in Norway?” Sbenaty asked. “In his manifesto of more than 1,5,00 pages, he was inspired by the people she invited to this conference. He mentioned Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. Why would we need these people who are coming here to town to preach hate?”

Events such as these can hurt tourism, Sbenaty added.

“Why would you want to bring in people who would damage the reputation of Nashville and Murfreesboro?” he asked. “It’s ironic that she is damaging our community in the name of freedom.”

Sbenaty said there’s always a small sect in any religious group that’s dangerous and can commit tragic acts in the name of their religion.

“Extremists can interpret any religion they way they want,” said Sbenaty, noting that he grew up in Damascus, Syria, with Christian and Jewish friends before becoming a U.S. citizen after moving to Tennessee in 1982. “This is my country. This is where I want to live. This is a country that is founded on freedom, and it’s founded on equality. It’s not founded on bigotry.”

The Rev. Maury Davis of Cornerstone said he agreed to host the conference because he wants to learn more about Shariah law and its impact on American culture. Earlier this year, the church hosted a speech by Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who is highly critical of Islam.

He said speakers will not be allowed to promote hatred toward Muslims.

“I am not going to have any hate speech,” Davis said. “And I define hate speech as inciting people to hurt people or mistreat people.”

Tickets to the conference are $20 and can be purchased at shariafreeusa.com.

Clergy Beyond Borders Embark on an Interfaith Caravan Trip

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2011 by loonwatch

Just look at the difference between Clergy Beyond Borders and hatemongers such as SIOA’s Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. One group (guess who) promotes pluralism, respect for our Constitution and freedom while the other one sows divisiveness, hate and thrives off of fear.

Clergy Beyond Borders Embark on an Interfaith Caravan Trip

Symi Rom-Rymer (Huffington Post)

An unusual vehicle is stuck in traffic on the highway from Nashville to Murfreesboro, T.N. It may look like an everyday passenger van but a glance inside tells a different story. Two imams, two rabbis and one evangelical pastor sit cheek-by-jowl with boxes of interfaith material blocking the back windows. With the rain pelting against the windows, the pastor and one of the rabbis pull up Facebook, excitedly checking how many friends they have in common. The conversation swings from good-natured teasing to philosophical discussions and disheartening stories of humiliation suffered in a post-9/11 world. This drive is just one of many this group will have taken together by the end of their 15-day Religious Leaders for Reconciliation ride through cities in the American South and Midwest. Their goal is to bring a message of unity and of interfaith understanding to a country they feel is forgetting what that means.

“A rabbi next to an imam, next to an evangelical minister: it sounds strange,” explains Imam Yahya Hendi, founder of Clergy Beyond Borders, the organization sponsoring the ride, and the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. “But this is the America dream. This is what America makes possible. This could be a joke in Saudi Arabia or maybe in Pakistan. This could never be a joke in the United States of America. This is a dream we need to protect. This is the reality we need to nurture.”

Deep recessions in the United States in the past have resulted in high levels of intolerance of immigrants and other minority groups. “History suggests that the quality of our democracy — more fundamentally, the moral character of American society — would be at risk if we experienced a many-year downturn,” Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman predicted in “Meltdown, a Case Study,” in The Atlantic in 2005.

For the clergy in the van, Friedman’s 2005 predictions are today’s realities. The stresses of the last decade have thrown American racism and prejudice into stark relief. An atmosphere of suspicion and misunderstanding has taken root, poisoning the religious and cultural plurality that many Americans point to with great pride. The motto of the trip is “One Ark, One Humanity,” drawing from the premise that followers of the three Abrahamic faiths share the same ancestor, Noah. In other words, to ignore that bond is to ignore one’s own faith. By talking about each of the religious traditions and better understanding them, the clergy hope to break down barriers between the practitioners of each of the faiths. Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, a ride participant said, “I don’t actually think as a Jew, that I know everything there is to know about God and about religious truth. I love my tradition, I read the text of my tradition, but it’s been my experience with Christians and Muslims that what I’ve learned [from them] enriches me, makes me a better Jew and makes me see things in my own tradition that I didn’t see before.”

The destination today is Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, T.N., the ninth city on the tour. While much of the media and political attention last year was focused on whether to build Park 51, the proposed Muslim cultural center in downtown New York, Murfreesboro was struggling with its own divisive debates over the building of a new mosque. No sooner had the land been secured, some members of the community opposed it. Bringing the matter to court over zoning laws, the case attracted the attention of national conservative groups. Soon, it was no longer about the legality of building the mosque but rather a referendum on American Muslims and on Islam itself. The Los Angeles Times reported that conservative activists were brought into Murfreesboro to say in court that “American Muslims — including those in Murfreesboro — want to impose Shari’a, or Islamic law, on the United States, and that the proposed mosque, gymnasium and swimming pool were part of a ‘stealth jihad.’” Meanwhile, the county’s planning commission argued that Islam was not a religion and therefore not eligible to own land for religious purposes.

The Judge ultimately ruled in favor of the Muslim community but just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the local Islamic Center received a bomb threat. Thus far, no contractor is willing to take on the project of building the mosque.

In the van, this recent history is well known. There was some anxiety as the group rolled closer to the destination. The event, co-sponsored by the MTSU Muslim Student Association, the Wesley Foundation and the Jewish Student Union, would be open to the public. One of the clergy remarked that earlier in the day while in Nashville, he was told that he would be going to ‘Ground Zero.’ His students at Duke University told him that they looked forward to seeing him if he got back, not when.

The program at MTSU was billed as an interfaith event but Islam and Muslims were firmly at the center of the discussion. Could this panel of clergy bring some words of reconciliation or encouragement to this town torn apart by anger and suspicion? Imam Hendi, with great verve and enthusiasm, tried to impress upon his audience the seriousness with which he takes the American ideals of religious plurality and freedom. “Many years ago,” he thundered to the crowd, “I wanted to live free and I knew only in America can I live free. Only in the pluralistic, diverse America, can I be myself and I want America to continue to be pluralistic, to continue to be diverse. That is why I will continue to live in the United State of America. Not because I want it to be a Muslim America. No! If America wants to become Muslim, let me know so that I can move elsewhere.”

Laughter and applause greeted his words, but skepticism lingered. In this traditionally Christian majority community, some wanted to know if by advocating for religious pluralism, these clergy were really advocating for an amalgamation of the three religions. Absolutely not, was the immediate reply. “I am an exclusivist,” expanded Reverend Steve Martin. “How do I square that then with interfaith dialogue? Calling myself a Christian or claiming a certain faith experience doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. Although I believe the truth of the faith that I claim is definitive, there’s a lot that I can learn about that faith by interacting with, by loving and caring, and deeply deeply respecting brothers and sisters of other pathways and other faiths. ”

Other questioners spoke more to the political discourse of recent years, demonstrating the influence conservative talking points have had within the community. “Do you believe that Christians should be able to build as many churches as they wish and Jewish people should be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia and build as many synagogues as they wish?” asked one audience member suspiciously. “How do you plan to even begin on the oppression of your [Muslim] women?” asked another.

These provocative questions resulted only in calm answers. I’m so glad you asked that question, responded Imam Hendi. “I stand by you for a Christian to be able to openly and publically worship in churches in Saudi Arabia.” Imam Abdullah Antepli, his colleague on the panel, jumped in, adding that not allowing minorities to pray in Saudi Arabia has no grounding in Islamic practice and is in fact a violation of Islam.

Turning the onus back onto the questioner concerned about Muslim women’s rights, Imam Hendi added some provocation of his own. “I feel so angry when I see women oppressed in some Muslim countries. That happens not because of Islam, but rather despite Islam. Look at the history of the past 20 years in Muslim countries. Turkey had a female president, [as has] Bangladesh and Indonesia. Pakistan had a female prime minister. The American debate, unfortunately, is still if we can have a female president.”

For many others, the themes of unity and of opening oneself up to ones’ neighbors resonated deeply and without rancor. They made it clear that the debate over the mosque not only affected the Muslim community, but the whole community. It was their image and reputations on the line. Laura, a Murfreesboro resident, summed up many of her neighbors’ feelings during the question and answer session. The portrayal of her town in the media over the past year was not a fair representation of her and of the people of Murfreesboro, she said. “There are many of us who support the mosque,” she added. “A number of us have made some efforts in community organizing in order to come together.”

As people lingered in the lobby following the program, the mood was positive. The message the clergy had been trying to impart all evening seemed to have fallen on receptive ears. “I think it was one of the best debates we’ve had, and I’ve been to several of them,” said Jennifer Roberts, another Murfreesboro resident. “In the last year, [this] is all I want to talk about. I started a diversity group where I work and we’re trying to get people just to learn. You don’t have to become. You don’t have to switch. If you know, it’s not as scary.”

Having been awake since 5 AM and arriving back at their hotel in Nashville 18 hours later, it had been a long day for the group. Early the next morning, they would pack up the van again and leave for their next stop: Louisville, K.Y. The schedule was punishing, but they had a mission. “A lot of voices in the name of religion have been dividing us,” said Imam Antepli, who had gotten up at 3:30 AM to join the ride. “We are struggling to turn our differences into richness. It is the core mission of the clergy to make religion a strong force of peace and reconciliation.”

A Murfreesboro paper and a Smyrna citizen do battle over Islam

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2011 by loonwatch
Tony MijaresAnti-Loon Tony Mijares

Tony Mijares is an unsung hero and definitely one of the anti-Loons of the year. He has been a strident opponent of the Islamophobic Rutherford Reader which gins up anti-Mosque and anti-Islam rhetoric.

I hope all those of conscious from amongst Muslims and non-Muslims help him in his time of need.

A Murfreesboro paper and a Smyrna citizen do battle over Islam

by Jonathan Meador (Nashville Scene)

The idea that he would become an activist for Muslim rights never occurred to Tony Mijares, who is not a Muslim. But then, destiny rarely raps on the doors of the overprepared. Shortly after retiring from the international freight forwarding industry in 2005, the 54-year-old Mijares relocated from bustling cosmopolitan Los Angeles to the considerably smaller and more conservative town of Smyrna, Tenn. — not to spark a new front in America’s culture wars, but to take care of his elderly mother, Josephine.

“That,” Mijares tells the Scene, “and the cheap rent.”

Prone to speaking his mind in a fashion unbecoming to most definitions of Southern gentility, Mijares nonetheless managed to keep a low profile in a town of approximately 39,000, spending his days caring for Josephine and trying his best to enjoy the retiree’s life in small-town America — a big leap for the native Chicagoan.

“I’m an Italian-American,” Mijares says. “I have black hair, I have a big nose, I have olive skin, and I have this accent. I look pretty different than most people here.” So different, he says, that he and his mother have gotten an odd vibe sometimes when they’ve gone to a store or restaurant.

“They look at us like, ‘You don’t fit in here — how dare you walk in here, what are you even doing here?’,” he says. “I thought, what the hell is this? I’ve lived in LA and it’s like the United Nations over there. If people there don’t like you, it’s because of something you’ve said to them, not because of how you look. That really grated on me, and it still does.”

Some degree of culture shock was inevitable. “I’m already sick of biscuits and gravy,” Mijares jokes. But his aspirations for idyllic retirement began to evaporate in April 2010, when he opened a copy of a local weekly publication, The Rutherford Reader.

Mijares was familiar with the Reader. Founded in 2000 by career newspaperman Peter Doughtie and employing several of his family members, the Murfreesboro-based community newspaper often caught Mijares’ attention with its ultra-conservative editorial content. To Mijares, it “went off the rails” after Barack Obama was elected in 2008 — but that wasn’t what caught his attention this time.

“While I respect the works of moderate Muslims … I wholeheartedly, unfortunately, must assert that the U.S. must halt all future Muslim immigration, until Muslims acquiesce to living within the legal structures of their host nations rather than striving to restructure nations under an evil, de-humanizing, backward and defiling 12th century ideology, even should this take the next 50 years,” wrote Reader guest columnist Justin O. Smith in the April 8, 2010, edition.

Reading it in disbelief, Mijares says, “My mouth just dropped open, because all you have to do is substitute the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Islam’ and this would be a Nazi paper.”

Alarmed by the Reader‘s increasingly anti-Muslim bent amid the ongoing controversy over a proposed 52,000-square-foot Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Mijares decided to take action. He began calling the Reader‘s advertisers and distributors about what he was reading. And one by one, they began withdrawing their support.

Mijares’ efforts garnered local headlines last year as a result of his campaign’s success. Multiple Rutherford County businesses, including Kroger and Kentucky Fried Chicken, refused to carry the Reader after actually reading its articles, which frequently detail the threat of Sharia law and radical Islam to the freedoms of small-town Smyrna. Conservative websites like the New English Review and even Fox News portrayed the campaign as yet another example of political correctness and liberal censorship in the Obama era, despite the fact that the decision of former advertisers and distributors to end their business relationships with the Reader were entirely voluntary.

As the headlines died down, Mijares continued to sporadically write letters to the Reader‘s diminishing advertisers, which by then were largely limited to local businesses. Many of them either defended the paper’s right to free speech, or just ignored Mijares altogether.

“This is not my job,” he says. “This is not even a hobby. I have an elderly parent I gotta take care of, and in my spare time, if I happen to look at it, I’ll do something about it. This is not something I do everyday, every week or even every month.”

But beginning with its August 2011 editions, the Reader turned the tables on Mijares. For three consecutive weeks, the paper published a letter he sent to one of its advertisers, Music City Medical Supply. That letter included Mijares’ home address, which was highlighted on page 20-B with the following speculation: “[Is Mijares] working for or being funded by a Muslim group to harass local businesses?”

“Phone calls are being made and letters sent because of the large number of businesses that have chosen to advertise with The Reader and carry it in their stores,” the paper declared. “We appreciate any support you can give our advertisers to combat the bullying and harassment they are receiving.”

Mijares was terrified. Living in the same county where the construction site for the aforementioned Murfreesboro mosque expansion was vandalized and construction equipment set ablaze in August 2010 didn’t bode well for the reluctant activist, whose elderly mother had now been implicated in the feud.

“This is not some paranoid fantasy of mine,” he says. “Just because I’m alive right now doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some incident coming up. It’s not just a local paper. They published this on their website, which is read across the country, so that any Aryan or skinhead or redneck from Montana to West Virginia could get it into his head that I’m supposed to be a target. Even then I could still handle it, but what pisses me off is that [Doughtie] put my family at risk.”

Doughtie tells the Scene via email that Mijares has “spent a year and a half trying to harm our publication, our livelihood, and our family. I do not feel I owe Mijares any consideration whatsoever.” Whether that justifies publishing Mijares’ home address, Doughtie declined to say, adding instead that he has retained an attorney who sent a cease-and-desist letter to halt Mijares’ protest. Mijares, protected by the First Amendment, has ignored the letter.

“My philosophy is that if a bully pushes you, you push back immediately and kick him for good measure,” Mijares says. “If you do nothing, he’ll be encouraged to keep bullying you.” He’s since contacted the Smyrna Police Department, who declined to comment for this story, and is actively seeking legal representation.

But others who say they’ve run afoul of anti-Muslim opponents in Rutherford County have retained more than lawyers. In 2010, documentarian Eric Allen Bell found himself in Smyrna during a period of disillusionment with Hollywood.

“I went to a wedding in Murfreesboro, and while I was there I walked around the neighborhood and [was charmed by] the old houses in the historical district and the town square,” Bell says. “I grew up in LA, and we don’t have anything like that there. I thought I could do about six months or a year here to just write a script and take a break from Los Angeles.”

Bell’s idyll didn’t last long, though. As controversy over the proposed Murfreesboro mosque expansion turned the county into a new frontline in the culture wars, he began filming a documentary titled Not Welcome.

His confrontational tongue and critical eye evidently didn’t sit well with some members of the community. As Bell’s project began picking up steam, he says, so did the threats against his life.

“You never know for sure how seriously to take it when someone threatens you,” Bell says. “I felt that my life might be in danger, and it was hard to know if I was overreacting or not. But there were enough threats from a large group of people, so that when I filmed group scenes I had to have armed security on more than one occasion. Eventually I just decided I have enough footage [and went back to LA].”

At a September 2010 county commissioner meeting, Bell cornered then-Republican congressional candidate and Rutherford County Planning Board member Lou Ann Zelenik on the sidewalk outside the Murfreesboro town square. The filmmaker hammered her with questions about her claims that the mosque expansion was nothing more an Islamic training camp, as Zelenik had insinuated on a Fox & Friends appearance in June 2010.

“A man stepped out in front of [Zelenik] and right into my camera and said, ‘Get out of here! I’m gonna stuff that camera right up your ass!’ ” Bell recalls. “And police were there and said something inaudible and the man said to them, ‘I don’t care, I’m stuffing that camera up his ass if he doesn’t get out of here!’ ”

A couple of days later at a Tea Party event, the man who threatened Bell introduced himself as Peter Doughtie. Bell says Doughtie apologized, but more so with an aim of keeping the footage of his outburst off of YouTube. (Doughtie did not deny that the encounter took place, but added a note of clarification: ”I was referring to his microphone that was attached to the camera.”)

“He’s very much a Southern gentleman,” Bell says of Doughtie. “He’s very easy to talk to. He comes across as really harmless and really simple, but he’s actually pretty Machiavellian, because his full-time occupation is getting these Muslims out of the country, because they’re all terrorists, right?

“I’ve had enough conversations with [Doughtie] off the record, and I can see this is a really personal issue for him,” Bell adds. “He actually really believes this stuff. That said, he can be vicious. If you grab the Rutherford Reader, if you evaluate that magazine on the basis of ‘what’s the feeling I get from this,’ every page is fear, fear, fear. Ironically, it’s also supposed to be Christian. Everything about it is pointing the finger. It’s ugly.”

To be sure, not all of Doughtie’s unpaid columnists rage against the Islamic fundamentalist machine. Along with news content provided by Murfreesboro radio station WGNS-1450 AM, the paper provides a few inches each week penned by a token liberal. That is offset by a 4-to-1 ratio, however, in favor of topics such as “No Sharia, no minarets,” “Who is the Muslim Brotherhood?’ or, as a recent columnist stated, “Islam has caused more harm than Communism and Nazism combined.”

“We do not share the same opinions as the Reader,” says WGNS Vice President Scott Walker. “We allow for the Reader to publish our stories in the Reader as a way for more people to be informed about news in our community. At WGNS, we believe in individual freedoms. Although the Reader has different opinions then ours at WGNS, we value the fact that they are allowed the freedom to publish their own opinions in the great country of America. We are big believers in the freedom of speech. We value that freedom that all Americans have, even if a person’s personal views are different from ours.”

Indeed, a recent editorial penned by Doughtie himself, titled “We have our work cut out,” practically oozed “freedom of speech.”

“I am not in awe when the Imam glides by, being soft spoken and with the burkas and the robes,” writes Doughtie. “Dress like that any time in your home, and on Friday in the mosque but that dress is offensive to me in public. I’m sick and tired of not being counted when I’m offended. So many of us are offended every day but we do not speak up, we just smile and take it yet if you are something other than ‘white American,’ you are allowed to demand things be YOUR way. And the sad thing is, you get what you demand. Well, it’s time WE demand a few things.”

When asked by the Scene why his publication possesses such hostility toward a faith not unlike his own, Doughtie writes that “you may find it useful to read up on Islam by authors who are not apologists and defenders of Islam. I am not a bigot or a hater. I just have my eyes open.”

In an interview in the June 10, 2010, issue of the New English Review’s staunchly anti-Muslim blog The Iconoclast, Doughtie says the terrorist attacks of 9/11 prompted him to initiate the Reader‘s own jihad against radical Islam.

“After [9/11], I knew we could no longer ignore the fact that Islamic terrorists were carrying out their plans with a vengeance for the destruction of the West,” he says. “We reflect a Christian perspective throughout the paper. When I got into Sharia law, I knew we were in trouble.”

In the same interview, Doughtie lists the books that opened his eyes to the true nature of the Muslim faith. First was Shelley Klein’s The Most Evil Secret Societies in History, which describes the 12th century Muslim order the Hashishin (from which the term “assassin” is derived) alongside such strange conspiracy-theory bedfellows as the Bavarian Illuminati, the Ku Klux Klan and Aleister Crowley’s Argentum Astrum. Then came Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs by Robert Spencer, founder of Stop Islamization of America, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spencer’s work has been criticized by a broad spectrum of academics and journalists for selectively using passages from the Qur’an.

Armed with this perspective, the Reader‘s reactionary slant on Islam and immigration seems almost inevitable, given the demographic shifts that have occurred in Rutherford County over the past decade. According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, Rutherford County is significantly less Caucasian than it was just 10 years ago. Despite the total population growing by 40 percent, from 182,023 in 2000 to 262,604 as of last year, the white population has shrunk by 7.5 percent in the past decade alone. The growth is attributable to a rapid and sustained influx of minorities, whether Hispanic, African-American or Arab, minorities that now comprise 20 percent of Rutherford County’s overall population.

Meanwhile, the Reader boasts 400 distribution points with nearly 40,000 online subscribers. In light of the county’s demographic shifts and the unease reflected in the Reader, the candidacy of an anti-Muslim grandstander like Zelenik isn’t surprising.

Yet even if her 2010 bid for the 6th Congressional District failed, it exposed the extent of the divide now yawning between the Reader‘s fatwa-fearing readership and people like Mijares and Bell. To those who consider the Murfreesboro mega-mosque a Trojan horse, Zelenik is a noble crusader sounding clear and present danger in our midst, bleeding hearts be damned ­—while freedom-of-religion advocates like Bell regard her as a Southern-fried Goebbels clad in JC Penney power suits, whose guilty-until-proven-innocent campaign rhetoric echoes the screeds found within the pages of the Reader.

One of Zelenik’s campaign fliers draws the line: “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

Dr. Ossama Mohamed Bahloul, imam of the Murfreesboro Islamic Center, which received a fake-bomb threat in the week preceding the 10th anniversary of 9/11, thinks that such political and media-induced divisiveness is designed to distract all Americans from larger issues.

“You and I and everyone, at heart we want to care about our country and our life,” Bahloul says. “Some try to distract and increase the level of anger in people’s hearts. It’s how some of the politicians choose to deal with the serious challenges we have, like the deficit, or competition from China, or health care reform. I feel that sometimes if politicians can’t fix the issue, [they] try to distract people away from serious business.”

Bahloul isn’t the first person to suggest this.

In an era of contextual fragmentation wrought by mainstream mass media and the short attention spans they foster, you’d be forgiven for assuming the following passage recently appeared on Daily Kos as a wonky critique of the Tea Party.

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated … how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. I am not speaking in a clinical sense … the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

In fact, this is the lead paragraph from a 45-year-old essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” that ran in the November 1964 edition of Harper’s Magazine. Its author, historian Richard Hofstader, sought to analyze the racially charged, anti-Communist rhetoric of the John Birch Society within a historical framework. If there’s any comfort to be found in Hofstader’s words, it’s that America has a long, well-documented tradition of vitriolic misinformation, and still the Republic stands.

About this, Tony Mijares has no illusions.

“There is always going to be a Rutherford Reader or something like it,” he says. “My goal is not to put this guy out of business. If I have any kind of an agenda, it’s to continue what I’ve done already, which is to strip away this facade of it being a mainstream newspaper.”

Despite it all, Mijares’ sense of humor remains intact.

“Remember, I come from Los Angeles,” he says, “where you have the Bloods and the Crips and the Mexican Mafia and the Russian Mafia and the Chinese triads. LA is one of the most violent cities in the world — and I come to the South and I find myself endangered here, compared to all of the dangerous shit I had to put up with out there? It’s insane.”

Herman Cain: Americans Can Stop Mosques

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by loonwatch

This is a GOP candidate who is getting 6% of the popular vote right now, and this sort of rhetoric is acceptable for a large portion of Americans.

Herman Cain: Americans Can Stop Mosques

Herman Cain said Sunday that Americans should be able to ban Muslims from building mosques in their communities.

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state,” Cain said in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.”

Last week, the Republican presidential candidate expressed criticism of a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, telling reporters at a campaign event that “This is just another way to try to gradually sneak Sharia law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that.”

“This isn’t an innocent mosque,” Cain said.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace pressed him about those comments.

“Let’s go back to the fundamental issue,” Cain said. “Islam is both a religion and a set of laws — Sharia laws. That’s the difference between any one of our traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”

“So, you’re saying that any community, if they want to ban a mosque…” Wallace began.

“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.

Cain has made a number of controversial comments about Muslims, including a vow to be cautious about allowing a Muslim to serve in his administration.

On Sunday, Cain defended his position, telling Wallace that it’s not discrimination.

“Aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?” Wallace asked.

“I’m willing to take a harder look at people who might be terrorists, that’s what I’m saying,” Cain replied. “Look, I know that there’s a peaceful group of Muslims in this country. God bless them and they’re free to worship. If you look at my career I have never discriminated against anybody, because of their religion, sex or origin or anything like that.”

“I’m simply saying I owe it to the American people to be cautious because terrorists are trying to kill us,” Cain said, “so yes I’m going to err on the side of caution rather than on the side of carelessness.”

Original post: Herman Cain: Americans Have The Right To Ban Mosques In Their Communities

Awfully Dark Before the dawn

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2011 by loonwatch
Leonard Pitts

A great piece from an excellent journalist.

Awfully dark before the dawn

by Leonard Pitts (Miami Herald)

Granted, this would be considered self-evident by most of us, but it has been a matter of great controversy in the Tennessee town of Murfreesboro, where 17 people went to court last year to prevent a group of Muslims from building a mosque. On their own land.

The need to defend this fundamental right was only one of the ordeals visited upon the Muslims of Murfreesboro, who have also faced threats, vandalism and arson. As recently, vividly illustrated inUnwelcome: The Muslims Next Door, a troubling CNN documentary, the antagonists here are a clownish band of bigots scared witless by the prospect that a new mosque will be built in their community by a congregation that has already worshipped in said community for 30 years.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

The 17 had contended Muslims have no constitutional freedom to worship because Islam is not a religion. So the statement at the top of this column represents not just self-evident truth, but an actual ruling last week by an actual judge in an actual court. Again: seriously. Chancellor Robert Corlew, the aforementioned actual judge, was obliged to verify that Islam — which has survived 14 centuries and claims a billion and a half adherents — is a religion.

As reported in the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, in throwing out most of the plaintiffs’ case, Corlew also dismissed claims that “Kevin Fisher, an African-American Christian, would be subject to being a second-class citizen under Sharia law, Lisa Moore would be targeted for death under Sharia law because she’s a Jewish female; Henry Golzynski has been harmed because he lost a son fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, by insurgents pursuing jihad as dictated by Sharia law.”

Maybe you’re tempted to turn away in disgust. Yield not to temptation. We need to see this. This is what it looks like when a country loses its mind.

It looked like this in Germany in 1938 on Kristallnacht, in Rwanda in 1994 when the Hutus savaged the Tutsis, in America in 1942 when the Japanese were herded behind barbed wire.

My point is explicitly not that Muslims face mass vandalism, genocide or internment. Lord only knows what they face. Rather, my point is that the psychological architecture of what happened then is identical to the psychological architecture of Murfreesboro now. Once again, we see people goaded by their own night terrors, hatreds, need for scapegoats, and by the repetitive booming of demagogues, until they go to a place beyond reason.

And in that place inevitably lies a dark night of malice, destruction and awful deeds that seem like good ideas at the time. When it passes, like a fever, we — the doers and those who simply observe — are left shivering in a cold dawn as reason reasserts itself, wondering how barbarism overtook us, what broke loose inside us and vowing that it will never happen again. Never again.

Me, I don’t fear Muslims. I fear Muslim extremists. I fear extremists, period. And that group in Murfreesboro, make no mistake, is extremist.

Against their extremism, I find bitter succor in the inevitability of that cold dawn. Yes, there will come a morning after.

But first we must learn how dark this night will be.

Bill Would Make it Illegal to Be Muslim in Tennessee

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2011 by loonwatch

Will it be illegal to be a Muslim in Tennessee soon?

American-Islamic group, others to ask TN lawmakers to drop anti-Shariah bill

(The Tennessean)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations will hold a media conference at noon Tuesday at the Tennessee Capitol, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Interfaith Alliance and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Representatives will ask lawmakers to drop an anti-Shariah bill that would criminalize the support of that Islamic code.

The bills supporters are calling it an anti-terrorist measure that protects the constitution, but Muslims say Shariah a set of rules for living, like the Catholic canon or Jewish religious law, not anything that conflicts with the state for U.S. constitutions.

“This clearly unconstitutional and un-American legislation would make it illegal to be a Muslim in the state of Tennessee,” CAIR staff attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a media release this morning.

“Consideration of this legislation, which completely disregards equality before the law, would send the unfortunate message that Tennessee is an intolerant state.”

 

Murfreesboro: Attorney Vows to Maintain Fight against Mosque

Posted in Loon Pastors, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by loonwatch

(hat tip: Eric Allen Bell)

ISLAMIC CENTER LAWSUIT: Attorney vows to maintain fight against mosque

The attorney representing residents suing Rutherford County over a proposed mosque solicited the public Friday for help — and money — while pledging to continue the court fight.

“The plaintiffs fully intend to continue to gather facts and evidence and proceed to a final hearing,” Murfreesboro lawyer Joe M. Brandon Jr. states in a “response” sent to media. “It is anticipated that the final hearing will occur after the full completion of discovery. This should be some time over the course of the next year.”

Brandon is representing plaintiffs Kevin Fisher, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski who filed suit after the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro acquired site plan approval May 24 from the county’s Regional Planning Commission to build a 52,960-square-foot community center with a mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike southeast of Murfreesboro’s city limits.

The lawsuit challenges whether the county provided sufficient notice to the public about the agenda item and also questions whether Islam is a religion and should be afforded land use rights as with other churches.

Chancellor Robert Corlew Jr. concluded after several days of testimony spread over three months this fall that “Islam is in fact a religion” and found no grounds to issue a temporary restraining order to halt the mosque’s construction.

Brandon, though, notes in his letter that at the conclusion of the temporary hearing, the trial court ruled, ” … we are startled to find that the case advocated by the Defendants as the authoritative holding that Islam is a religion was actually a case wherein the Supreme Court held that display of aChristmas tree with an angel proclaiming ‘Glory to God in the highest’ on the stairway of a county courthouse had the effect of endorsing a Christian message.”

The trial court went on to state, “[w]e stress in our holding that there is a distinction between a legal finding that Islam is a religion compared with a religious finding that Islam is a religion. The religious scholars may debate for a lengthy period of time whether Islam meets their definition of a religion.”

Brandon argued repeatedly during the hearing that the Islamic Center poses a threat to the community based on the tenants of Shariah Law, and therefore should not be deemed a religion. It’s a point that Brandon says he will continue to challenge at the full hearing in the case.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, meanwhile, has been charging ahead with its building plans on 15 acres. The congregation hopes to submit more detailed plans to obtain a building permit by March or April, said Saleh Sbenaty, a planning committee member for the Muslim congregation.

“We’re just finishing up the grading,” Sbenaty said during a Friday night phone interview. “The grading is taking more time because of the weather. After the grading is done, we will send the whole package for the building permit.”

Phase I of the building plans will be in the 10,000- to 11,000-square-foot range and include a reception hall that will also serve as a prayer area, an office for the imam (religious leader) and a small meeting room that can also serve as a nursery.

If enough money is available in Phase I, the ICM will also seek to build two outdoor pavilions and a playground between the two, added Sbenaty, an 18-year MTSU professor who teaches courses in electronics and computers for the Engineering Technology Department.

Long-term plans include a formal mosque area for worship, classrooms for weekend religious study, a gym, indoor pool, more offices, a multipurpose sports field, a basketball/tennis court and a private cemetery for ICM members.

Brandon, in addition to vowing to continue efforts to halt the project, implored anyone with information relevant to the case to forward it to his office.

“Additionally, should anyone feel led to make a donation toward attorney’s fees or other mandatory related costs, please give me a call, wherein, these matters can be discussed in depth,” Brandon states.

 

Understatement of the Year: “Murfreesboro Mosque Opponents Dislike Islam”

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by loonwatch

A good article by SAM STOCKARD.

STOCKARD: Mosque lawsuit boils down to dislike of Islam

Foes of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s building plan used Rutherford County’s lax planning rules as a cover to hide their dislike for Muslims and their religion.

In what may have been the longest temporary restraining order hearing in county history, the attorney for mosque opponents tried to shoot holes in planning and public notification rules.

Make no mistake, they have plenty of gaps, because the county’s guidelines don’t require neighbors to be notified about site plans and they don’t require the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission agendas to be published in their entirety in advance of a meeting.

But for mosque foes to act as if they didn’t know about the Islamic Center’s plan to build a mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.

The Islamic Center posted a large sign on the property letting people know about the future site in late 2009, months before the Planning Commission was to consider the proposal.

The Daily News Journal also published stories about the sign being vandalized with the words “Not welcome” spray-painted on it. It was later broken in two.

On the day the Planning Commission was to consider the measure, The DNJ also published a small story notifying the public about the matter.

Not until several days later did mosque opponent Kevin Fisher start raising questions about the issue. In a later interview, Fisher more or less said the mosque foes would have to use technicalities to defeat the Islamic Center site plan. He also acknowledged he has personal problems with Islam.

One of Rutherford County’s planning flaws is that places of worship are allowed by right, the same as residential zoning, thus no public hearing was held.

The second is that apparently little thought was given to the impact of a facility that could eventually encompass nearly 53,000 square feet, though the Islamic Center acknowledges that could take about two decades to complete.

One of Judge Robert Corlew’s biggest concerns was that the County Commission had its legal ads and public notices published in the Murfreesboro Post. Commissioners switched to the Post from The DNJ to save money. Because state law requires only that meetings be advertised in a weekly newspaper of general distribution, the county’s ads are legal.

But even if the county had continued advertising with The DNJ, the notice still wouldn’t have let people know the planning commission was going to consider the Islamic Center plan that day. The agenda isn’t published, only a note saying when and where the meeting will be held.

That’s why The DNJ felt it necessary to let people know what was coming up, even if it wasn’t a front-page story that, up to that point, had received no public attention.

Even when The DNJ published reports about Islamic Center sign vandalism, nobody started fussing about the proposed site.

Only after the matter was approved did people start rallying against the mosque plan, going before the County Commission, holding marches on the Public Square and, ultimately, trying to stop the county from issuing more building permits with a legal challenge.

Chancellor Corlew allowed the hearings to stretch over the course of three months with more than eight hours of testimony and arguments in which the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Brandon, tried to label the county mayor and half the county Planning Commission as being soft on terrorism.

Fortunately for the First Amendment, Corlew ruled against the plaintiffs, saying he could find no harm done to them and that the county did not act capriciously in approving the Islamic Center site.

Interestingly enough, he ruled that Islam is, in fact, a religion. That is the key to all of this because the first argument a mosque foe takes is that Islam is not a religion.

Well, it may not be their religion, and it may not be a haven for women’s rights, but it is a religion, the second largest in the world. In fact, many people believe America is in the midst of a religious war, following the 9/11 bombing by Islamic radicals.

It’s a religion that Christians more or less tried to wipe out in trying to reclaim Jerusalem from Mohammedans during 200 years of Crusades in the Medieval period.

So if you don’t like Islam or Muslims, that’s your business. Call yourself a modern Crusader. But trying to take away their rights to worship in Rutherford County is about like trying to cut federal taxes at a Murfreesboro City Council meeting.

Corlew doesn’t have the authority to ban a religion, and attacking county planning rules won’t bring an end to Islam.

DNJ Senior Writer Sam Stockard can be reached 615-278-5165 or stockard@dnj.com.

 

Judge refuses to stop construction of Tenn. mosque

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , on November 19, 2010 by loonwatch

Will the loons accept the verdict or resort to violence?

Judge refuses to stop construction of Tenn. mosque

A judge refused Wednesday to stop construction of a proposed mosque in Tennessee that was opposed by some local residents who tried to argue that there was a conspiracy by Muslims to impose extremist law on the United States.

Opponents filed a lawsuit claiming that Rutherford County planning officials violated Tennessee’s open meetings law when they approved the site plan for an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled after closing arguments that he could not find that the “county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously” in approving the plan.

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon Jr. during seven days of testimony since late September was about whether Islam qualified as a religion. He pushed his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

Corlew said there was some concern about the public notice requirements and suggested county or state officials look at those requirements. But he said the court did not find that members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro adhered to extremist religious ideas.

Mosque leaders want to expand their facilities to accommodate a growing congregation and currently the proposed site is being prepared but no construction has started. Federal investigators are looking into a dump truck that was set on fire at the construction site earlier this year and twice the sign announcing the future site of the new Islamic center was vandalized.

Brandon had his hands on his face and at times was bent over the desk during the judge’s ruling. Afterward he briskly walked out of the courtroom without addressing the media.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who opposes the mosque but was not among the plaintiffs, said the plaintiffs are disappointed with the judge’s decision. However, she said the judge did recognize some of their concerns regarding notification of public meetings.

“We felt like the judge did hear us on those issues,” she said.

During the testimony, witnesses pointed out that Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board member Mosaad Rowash previously had pro-Hamas postings on his MySpace page, something the mosque’s leaders have not denied. The U.S. government considers Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing that has attacked Israel, a terrorist organization.

But Corlew said the actions of individuals associated with the mosque was poor judgment.

Brandon said before the ruling that the dispute would continue, however the judge rules. “If the court rules against us, we’re not going to stop,” he said.

Cardoza-Moore said the legal team would meet with the plaintiffs to decide the next course of action.

Jim Cope, the attorney for the county, said they will be prepared for any further challenges.

“We will continue to defend the county’s rights and interests in seeing the actions that we took were upheld appropriately,” he said.

Layla Hantouli, a 22-year-old Muslim woman who has been following the testimony, was glad the judge ruled against the mosque opponents.

“The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is not promoting anything violent or anything unlawful,” she said.

 

Murfreesboro’s Sharia’ Circus Continues

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by loonwatch

Hearing over Tenn. mosque turns into ‘circus’ of attacks on Islam, vague rumors of Muslim plot

TRAVIS LOLLER

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Islam is suddenly on trial in a booming Nashville suburb, where opponents of a new mosque have spent six days in court trying to link it to what they claim is a conspiracy to take over America by imposing restrictive religious rule.

The hearing is supposed to be about whether Rutherford County officials violated Tennessee’s open meetings law when they approved the mosque’s site plan. Instead, plaintiff’s attorney Joe Brandon Jr. has used it as a forum to question whether the world’s second-biggest faith even qualifies as a religion, and to push a theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

“Do you want to know about a direct connection between the Islamic Center and Shariah law, a.k.a. terrorism?” Brandon asked one witness in a typical line of questioning.

Brandon has repeatedly conflated a moderate version of Shariah with its most extreme manifestations, suggesting that all Muslims must adhere to those interpretations.

At one point, he asked whether Rutherford County Commissioner Gary Farley supported hanging a whip in his house as a warning to his wife and then beating her with it, something Brandon claimed was part of “Shariah religion.”

The commissioner protested that he would never beat his wife.

County attorney Jim Cope objected to the question, saying, “This is a circus.”

The rhetoric has conjured up comparisons to another culture clash that played out in a Tennessee courtroom a hundred miles and nearly a century away from Murfreesboro, a college city of 100,000 that is among the fastest-growing communities in the country. In 1925, the world watched as evolution came under attack at the Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tenn.

Even the group that provided the information on Rowash, the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, doesn’t claim that the MySpace postings prove anything about the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro or its members.

Managing director Ray Locker said the Washington group provided the information about Rowash to a Tennessee resident who sent an inquiry about the mosque. He said how such information is used is beyond his group’s control.

“We don’t consider all Muslims to be terrorists,” he said. “The vast majority of American Muslims just want to worship freely, just like members of other religions.”

Chancellor Robert Corlew has consistently given the plaintiffs leeway to present testimony by nonexperts and documents that they cannot prove are legitimate, saying he reserves the right to strike things from the record later.

Corlew, who holds an elected office, has given little explanation for why he has allowed the testimony to stray so far afield.

Since it is not a jury trial, the judge can ultimately disregard anything he deems irrelevant. Several attorneys suggested he may want the plaintiffs, three residents who object to how the mosque came about, to feel they were able to have their say.

That could explain why Corlew has allowed Brandon to repeatedly question witnesses about whether Islam is a legitimate religion — even after the Department of Justice stepped in with a brief stating that it was.

When Farley, the commissioner, told Brandon the federal government defined Islam as a religion, Brandon responded, “Are you one of those people who believes everything the government says? Are you aware the government once said it was OK to own slaves?”

Other faiths have risen to the defense of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The newly formed Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, which is composed of prominent Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Southern Baptists and other Protestants, has filed a brief in the case.

It’s good for the mosque’s opponents to get their day in court — testimony is to resume Friday — said the Rev. Joel Hunter, an evanglical megachurch pastor and coalition member.

But it’s “really out there” to question whether Islam is a religion, said Hunter, who leads a Longwood, Fla., congregation called Northland, A Church Distributed.

Seeking to prove that the mosque has terrorist leanings, witnesses have pointed out that board member Mosaad Rowash previously had pro-Hamas postings on his MySpace page, something the mosque’s leaders have not denied. The U.S. government considers Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing that has attacked Israel, a terrorist organization.

The political views of Rowash — who hasn’t been called to testify and hasn’t commented publicly — and other board members are “totally irrelevant,” said Deborah Lauter, the director of civil rights for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which sponsors the interfaith coalition.

If all of the members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro were public cheerleaders for Hamas, it would still be illegal to discriminate against them because the First Amendment protects freedom of worship, she said.

That wasn’t the message of witness Frank Gaffney, the president and founder of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

While acknowledging he was not an expert on Shariah law, Gaffney testified that Shariah, and by extension the new mosque, poses a threat to America.

Shariah isn’t really law, at least not law as a universally recognized, codified body of rules and rights, the way Americans have come to know it. Shariah is a set of core principles that most Muslims recognize as well as a series of rulings from religious scholars.

It’s some of those rulings, such as stoning a woman to death for committing adultery, that many non-Muslim Americans find reprehensible. But many Muslims, in America and around the world, are equally horrified by them, said Mohammad Fadel, an assistant professor of law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and an expert on Islamic law.

The mosque project has had problems outside court as well. A sign at the construction site was spray-painted with the words “Not Welcome” and torn in half, and federal investigators have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in what they say was the arson of a dump truck on the grounds.

Hunter, the Florida pastor, said he studied American history in college and knows that what is happening to Muslims today has happened to other groups in the past.

“Every minority — and Islam is very much a minority in this country right now — has had to struggle for equal rights,” he said. “Islam is facing that now and we will not rest until they have equal rights with other religions.”

 

Murfreesboro: Costs Mounting for County in Mosque Suit

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by loonwatch

Sometimes you can make a pretty penny when being an anti-Muslim bigot or Islamophobe.Emerson, Spencer, Geller and a host of others have literally laughed all the way to the bank but in some scenarios such actions can bite you in the butt.(hat tip: Eric Allen Bell)

County’s costs in mosque suit mounting

by Scott Broder

Rutherford County leaders recently added $50,000 to the county attorney’s budget for lawsuits against the government, but more could be needed by the time hearings end for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

“That was one estimate,” Rutherford County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said. “We may have to come back. I have received no bills yet.”

County Attorney Jim Cope gets paid $250 per hour and at least three associates earn $150 per hour. All four attorneys have spent multiple hours in court during six days of testimony before Chancellor Robert Corlew III. The case is scheduled to resume Nov. 12.

Cope said he and his associates have not added up their billing hours for being in court, preparing briefs, holding strategy meetings and talking to witnesses, media and other people involved in the case.

“It’s a costly case,” Cope said. “It’s involving a lot of time by the county attorneys. It’s a team effort.”

If Cope has spent 50 hours representing the county in court or preparing lawsuit motions, his bill would be $12,500 so far for September and October work. If associate Josh McCreary put in 50 hours, add another $7,500. If the other two associates have dealt with it for the same amount of time, each would get $7,500.

Even before plaintiffs Kevin Fisher, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski filed their suit Sept. 16, the county had already faced about $2,000 in legal bills from county attorneys spending 11.2 hours researching answers in August to four questions about the Islamic Center issue Fisher presented to the County Commission’s Public Works & Planning Committee.

“I’m expecting more,” Nolen said.

The county has a legal services agreement to pay Cope and his Murfreesboro firm at least a $6,000 per month retainer fee and more if the attorneys’ hours exceed $6,000 worth of service.

The county began this fiscal year July 1 with another $37,800 in the county attorney budget to cover additional work beyond the 12 months of retainer fees that total $72,000. The approved budget was based on Cope’s firm making $109,978 in the previous fiscal year.

The commission decided Oct. 14 to add another $50,000 to the budget to cover the additional work that included the lawsuit defense.

Other legal work includes Cope settling a dispute between the county’s Election Commission and its suspended Administrator of Elections Hooper Penuel; the county attorney office working on agreements to form a consolidated fire and rescue squad department; and a law firm associate preparing a proposed anti-litter resolution.

The county’s defense so far has dealt with plaintiffs seeking a restraining order to stop the county from issuing any more construction permits for the Islamic Center’s proposed mosque on Veals Road.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Joe Brandon Jr. of Rutherford County and Tom Smith of Williamson County, have brought up additional challenges in the case. They contend Islam is not a legitimate religion deserving of First Amendment rights because it seeks to take over the country to enforce Shariah Law, and they accuse local Muslim leaders of promoting terrorism.

Brandon also challenged whether the county broke the state’s open meetings law by not providing sufficient public notice of the Regional Planning Commission’s May 24 meeting to approve the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s site plan.

The congregation also has plans to build a cemetery there, pending approval from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Brandon has questioned Planning Director Doug Demosi’s role in approving a Muslim burial May 18 on the site.

Some details about paying for the plaintiffs’ lawsuit have emerged in court. Moore testified that she didn’t have to pay anything to Brandon.

“Donations is how I get paid,” Brandon said while questioning her. “You’re not obligated to pay me one cent.”

Other testimony has emerged about donations being paid to Proclaiming Justice to the Nations to educate the public about the dangers of Shariah Law and radical Islam. The group’s website offers an icon people can click on to “Donate to PJTN” and offers the statement: “Educating Christians about their biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and to defend the State of Israel.”
PJTN President Laurie Cardoza-Moore has traveled here from her Williamson County home to attend much of the testimony at Rutherford County Chancery Court. She previously spoke at Rutherford County Commission meetings to warn officials they could be liable for failing to protect residents here.

“We are raising money to educate Christians about the growing threat of radical Islam and Shariah Law in our communities,” Cardoza-Moore said in an interview last Tuesday. “I have not contributed to the lawsuit fund.”

The website mentions her grassroots activism since the 9/11 terrorism attacks and a documentary she made, “Lest We Forget” that focuses on “Islamofacism and the war that the U.S. and Israel wage against it today.”

Murfreesboro resident Jeanetta Alford testified that she contributed $100 for what she thought promoted education about the threat of Islam as well as her getting a copy of “Lest We Forget.”

“I think Shariah Law is overtaking the United States,” Alford said from the witness stand. “It violates our U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights.”

Plaintiffs’ witness Millie Evans testified that she wrote a $500 check and gave another $100 in cash to the fund because of her concerns about Shariah Law.

“I oppose the dangers of the center in the future,” testified Evans, who’s not satisfied that county officials have properly examined the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “I wish they’d ask more questions.”

Evans said the group has met several times, including at the home of Sally Wall, a retired real estate and development professional, and Howard Wall, a former chairman of the Rutherford County Republican Party.

The Walls have watched much of the hearing from the spectators’ seats, along with her daughter, Beth O’Brien, a former Murfreesboro City councilwoman. None of them have been called to the witness stand.

Howard Wall, in an interview outside of the County’s Judicial Building, said he had contributed a small amount to the legal fund.

In addition to Howard Wall, former Rutherford County Republican Party chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik has attended some of the hearing, sitting with opponents of the Islamic Center.

Zelenik during her close but unsuccessful campaign to be the Republican Party nominee for the 6th Congressional District seat in the Aug. 5 primary, accused Islamic Center board member Mosaad Rawash of supporting Hamas and “violent Jihad and martyrdom of Palestinians fighting against Israel” by posting these positions on his MySpace page on the Internet.

 

Mufreesboro: “America Better Off Without Muslims”

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by loonwatch

I don’t want to saturate today’s posts with Murfreesboro nuttiness, but this one was too good to pass up. So essentially some witnesses in the Murfreesboro Mosque trial are also funding groups who are “educating the public on the dangers of Islam.” (hat tip: Eric Allen Bell)

These witnesses also believe America should get rid of Muslims and that if anyone is teaching from the Quran it is against the law because the law is to teach from the Bible!

Witnesses fund lawsuit against local mosque

By: CHRISTIAN GRANTHAM, Post Contributor
Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010 8:03 pm

A witness in the Murfreesboro mosque trial said she believed America would be better off without Muslims and pledged support to fight a proposed mosque in her community.

Murfreesboro resident Jeanetta Alford was called to the stand Thursday in an effort by plaintiffs to stop the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Rutherford County.

“If anyone is teaching out of the Qur’an, then yes, you are breaking the law,” Alford told the court. “I believe we have to follow the Bible and respect our government.”

Alford went on to describe the dangers of Sharia law and her new found fear of Islam after studying publications and hearing from local mosque opponents. Read the rest

 

Hey Folks, Islam is a Religion after all!

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by loonwatch

Ummm….thank you…I guess?

Murfreesboro mosque debate: U.S. Department of Justice says Islam is a religion

BY BRIAN HAAS • THE TENNESSEAN • OCTOBER 18, 2010

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday waded into the debate over a proposed mosque near Murfreesboro on Monday, saying that Islam is a valid religion.

The department on Monday filed a brief in a lawsuit challenging the proposed mosque, arguing that Islam is an officially recognized religion and warning Rutherford County officials that treating Islam as anything other than a religion could violate civil rights laws.

U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin will be holding a 1 p.m. press conference today to discuss the brief.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is in the process of trying to build new worship facilities after outgrowing their Murfreesboro location. About 18 months ago, religious leaders there decided to develop land they bought at Veals Road and Bradyville Pike to host their new 10,000-square foot center, which would house worship services, receptions, classrooms, a gym and a pool. Outside, they hope to build sporting areas, a playground, a pavilion and a cemetery on the 15-acre site.

Tensions have been high about the proposed mosque, with competing rallies in and around Murfreesboro both for and against the proposal.

Opponents of the mosque have filed suit against Rutherford County officials, accusing the county of not properly notifying the public about the proposal. The lawsuit also argues that Islam is not a valid religion, but a political movement that is looking to supplant U.S. laws with Muslim laws.

The Department of Justice in its brief was blunt of that assessment.

“Every court addressing the question has treated Islam as a religion for purposes of the First Amendment and other federal laws. No court has held otherwise,” the brief reads. “Islam falls plainly within the understanding of a religion for constitutional and other federal legal purposes…”

The Department of Justice brief does not argue whether the proposed center itself should be approved, only that Islam is an officially recognized religion.

Federal law enforcement officials continue to investigate the arson of construction equipment at the site of the proposed mosque.

Contact Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 or bhaas@tennessean.com.