Tennessee Hates Muslims. Who Knew?

Anne here, with another item from the Hatewatch Headlines of the Southern Poverty Law Center….

Tennessee has been a hotbed of anti-Muslim activism for years, especially after plans were laid to build an Islamic center in Murfreesboro. There have been bomb threats and numerous conferences centered on the unfounded but widely hyped fear that Shariah law will somehow be imposed on Americans. The chapter of ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim extremist group, based in Nashville is the most active in the country.

So perhaps it was to be expected that a community forum intended to foster dialogue and a greater understanding of Muslims in America degenerated into a hate-filled free-for-all on Tuesday night.

The event in Manchester was organized by the American Muslim Advisory Council after Coffee County, Tenn., commissioner Barry West posted a cartoon to his Facebook page last month showing a man aiming a shotgun and the words, “How to wink at a Muslim.”

“This night was supposed to be about understanding the Muslim-American community,” Sabina Mohyuddin, a spokeswoman for the council, told Hatewatch. “[But] during the whole program, from the beginning to the end, protesters were heckling, interrupting, shouting out.”

The forum drew 600 people, far exceeding expectations of 100. Audience members shouted down speakers and accused others of violating their freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, outside the convention center, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller of Stop the Islamization of America gave speeches accusing the Obama administration of trying to “shut down speech deemed ‘inflammatory’ against Muslims.”

“Americans aren’t going to sit quietly while our freedom of speech is taken away, and are never, ever, going to submit and stop telling the truth about the jihad that threatens us all,” Geller said after the event. “We are an army.”

The irony was that speeches from U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and Kenneth Moore, FBI special agent in charge of the Eastern Tennessee District, were focused on the very freedoms ensured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. “Our presence here tonight has generated some controversy,” Moore told the audience.“People think we want to step on and stifle their First Amendment rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

At one point, the anger inside the convention center grew so intense that the FBI decided to end the forum early because of concerns that the crowd would grow uncontrollable, Mohyuddin said.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has grown for many years in Tennessee, prompted in part by the work of activist groups like ACT! for America and opposition to the planned Islamic Center in Murfreesboro. Hardline ideologues associated with the anti-Muslim movement have long believed that the mosque would serve as a base of operations for the Muslim Brotherhood.

But until now, the dialogue has never reached such rancor, according to local resident Elaine Smith. She told The Tennessean that at many times during the evening, she was frightened of the other audience members.

“I came here because I wanted to learn something … but I couldn’t hear because the audience was so disrespectful,” Smith said. “I cried when I got here. It makes me really sad especially because these people say they’re Christians. The God I worship doesn’t teach hate.”

Most of us who read and participate in WWJTD would agree that religion does more harm than good in the long run. However, our constitutions – both federal and state – allow religion to exist as long as the government isn’t supporting it and as long as religions don’t adversely impact other people. This is something Jihad Watch and Stop the Islamization of America should remember. (They won’t.) They insisted that their First Amendment rights were being violated when they were told to be quiet. They forget that their exercise of rights cannot cause someone else to forfeit their own.

Coincidentally, Javier Alan Correa, who called in a bomb threat to Islamic Center in Murphreesboro on September 5, 2011, entered a guilty plea to the charges Tuessday, the same day the protests disrupted the forum. He received a sentence of 8 months of electronic monitoring and 5 years probation. At his sentencing, he said to the Nashville, TN federal judge, “I’ve been around with all types of people, and have all types of friends. I also understand not all Muslims are terrorists. I was just ignorant at that time, plus I had been drinking alcohol so I wasn’t thinking very clearly which is why I made a very poor choice in calling. Sir, after making that phone call I felt really bad and guilty. I really felt awful and I knew what I did was wrong. I’m sorry for that.”

Essam Fathy, chairman of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said he and the community had fully accepted his apology and the judge’s sentence. They are kinder than this defendant deserves them to be. I wonder if the Boston Marathon bombers would have gotten off so lightly if they had been thwarted in their attempts to maim and kill and create havoc?

 

About Anne

Civil rights activist Anne Orsi is one of the spokespeople for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and is the primary organizer of Reason in the Rock, a conference on science, secularism and skepticism. Got a question? Email her at anne@aramink.com. She's a lawyer but may not be licensed in your state. Sending her an email or reading her blog posts does not create an attorney-client relationship. Find Anne on Twitter as @aramink, and read her regular blog at www.aramink.com.


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