Fighting Islamophobia in Middle Tennessee
Our city in central Tennessee has become the latest battleground in the struggle against Islamophobia.
A short time ago, an area that had been zoned for a church right outside the city limits of Murfreesboro (home to Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee's largest undergraduate university) was acquired by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in order to construct a larger community center complete with a space for worship as well as athletic facilities. If constructed, the enlarged Islamic Center—including a very small mosque—would be the first large facility to serve the Muslim population in the surrounding area (the current Islamic Center is incredibly small and located in the industrial sector of the city near the interstate). Following all the legal procedures, the Regional Planning Commission approved the construction—just as it would any of the roughly 180 churches in this area.
That was when elements of the far right, organized by the extremely well-funded mega-church World Outreach swung into action, stacking a Rutherford County Commission meeting with vocal footsoldiers. After that, the local newspaper announced that a march against the mosque had been planned for July 14th. That was when the local Solidarity branch began its work.
The Middle Tennessee branch of Solidarity began gathering like-minded folks in the community together to form an ad-hoc grassroots group to organized a counter-protest. It was decided to name the group Middle Tennesseans For Religious Freedom and a meeting was held last Wednesday. It was attended by over 20 individuals who were committed to helping organizing the event (with 3 or 4 Solidarity members present rather than the whole branch), including a documentary film maker from out of town (another 10 or so are involved in organizing in one form or another but could not attend). It was agreed at the meeting to have the entire counter-rally themed around protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans rather than positioning the event as a defense of Islam per se (this was also the desire of the Islamic Center representatives). That said, we all have prepared ourselves to respond to the lies about Islam that are being spread in this struggle.
Since then our struggle has appeared on national news coverage, including Jon Stewart's Daily Show—though our grassroots network was only a day old at the time. We have been phone-banking, going door to door, canvassing neighborhoods and local businesses and much more.
Islamophobia conflates ethnic, religious, cultural, and national identities into one figure which stands in a place not unlike "the Jew" in traditional European antisemitism. The power of this image of the subversive Muslim is drawn from the effect of ceaseless imperial propaganda displayed in the corporate media. It has the power to mobilize the oppressed and exploited populations of the great capitalist powers via the projection of irrational fantasies of imminent Islamic revolution onto an incredibly small minority population. Without a strong anti-war movement working deeply with the Muslim community, the mainstream population has been subjected to endless scapegoat ideology without any serious counter-force.
Cynical Republic Party politicians, such as the local Tea Party favorite for our Congressional seat, Lou Ann Zelenik (also an active member of World Outreach Church), have been making atrocious public statements such as, "Is it a church, or a training center?" in order to foment hate and churn out voters for their faction of the Party. (Zelenik is opposed to Jim Tracy, a more mainstream business-oriented Republican.)
On July 14th, with nothing but grassroots organization, we will confront a march organized by the shadowy forces of the local Republican Party apparatus and the corporate-funded World Outreach Church. We ask for your solidarity and support. At this time, the County has made its decision, and we are simply supporting it. If this counter-rally goes badly and they reverse their decision, we will reassess the situation and the struggle will continue.