Middle Tennessee confronts Islamophobia

Posted July 16, 2010

(Article authored by lifetime Tennessee resident and local MT Solidarity branch member Jase Short)

For the past month, xenophobic and anti-Muslim forces have stirred up controversy around a proposed mosque outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Considering the Bible Belt location and context of two major wars against majority-Muslim countries, opponents have drawn from some of the most right wing and backwards elements of the region’s culture. But local activists have drawn on other traditions: the democratic freedoms in the Bill of Rights and the Civil Rights movement.

demonstrators confront anti-Muslim protestors

On Thursday, Middle Tennesseans For Religious Freedom (MTRF) delivered a blow to these Islamophobic right wingers and managed to pull out more people into the streets of Murfreesboro than the well-funded opposition. Roughly 450-500 showed up to defend the rights of Muslims against the 300 or so on the other side — stunning organizers and the entire state of Tennessee. We made it on national and international news. The chances that the County Commission will reverse its decision — especially now since the mayor has switched his position on granting the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro the right to construct its new facility — have been seriously diminished.

Solidarity organizers worked very hard to make the event community-wide, while not shying away from informing others of our political affiliation. Roughly 15-20 organizers (with 4 or 5 Solidarity members) created the Middle Tennesseans For Religious Freedom grassroots network and spent a week handing out flyers, making phone calls, going door to door, and contacting allied organizations.

The MTRF rally began gathering around 2:30. When the organizers arrived, there were already 150 or so present. After an hour or so, mosque opponents marched down Main Street, escorted by police as well as some questionable looking bikers. They then curled around the square to come to the opposite side of the court house, opposite from where we were gathering. The MTRF group moved across from the opposition march, keeping completely silent as they hurled insults at us. We remained silent until one Solidarity and MTRF member tried to present the opposition’s leader with a flower–which he rejected.

Following that rejection we began the chant: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew – First Amendment applies to you!

They responded with “Amazing Grace,” to which we responded with the Star Spangled Banner. An hour or so of tense standoff ensued, with MTRF organizers holding a line between the opposing sides in order to prevent violence (the opposition worked really hard to provoke us, to no avail).

After the event, folks from the Islamic Center and the community in general thanked us for our efforts, one local business even provided organizers a free meal. At least in this case, the forces of bigotry and hate in the American South have been met with a strong, vibrant force of democratic power. Although started by socialists, MTRF became a broad alliance of progressive folks. We do not know what comes next, as the opposition has been silent since their resounding failure, but undoubtedly they have not given up… and neither have we.


8 responses to “Middle Tennessee confronts Islamophobia”

  1. Isaac Avatar

    Unfortunately, I didn’t see this comment until now, a few days after it was posted. I’m going to leave it up, since it’s already been online for awhile. It’s no use pretending this kind of bigotry doesn’t exist in the world. But it’s also clearly not intended or capable of contributing anything to a discussion so any future comments along this line, or replies to this one, will be deleted.

  2. George Fish Avatar
    George Fish

    Jimmie King’s ignorant Christian fundamentalist rant is all too typical of Islamophobia indeed; but the left’s principled opposition to Islamophobia as such should not deter it from criticizing Islam itself. While we of the left certainly wouldn’t use force to prevent the Jimmie Kings of this world from practicing their religion as long as they don’t use that practice to impose their religious views on others, we of the left would certainly criticize the Christianity expressed therin, just as, I would hope, we would criticize the Catholic “religious practice” of priest-pedophilia and cover up, along with its homophobia and misogyny (unfortunately, perhaps I write in vain on this, as I have seen no substantive criticism from the left recently on these issues). Certainly we of the left have to openly oppose the stoning of women to death for “adultery” as sanctioned by Islamic theocratic states such as Iran and Somalia; certainly we have to oppose the fatwah against novelist Salman Rushdie, whose death has been called for by Islamic authorities for the “crime” of writing a novel; and certainly we should oppose Islamic Holocaust denial by Hamas and by Ahmajinedad, Iran’s President. But, too often, in the name of combatting Islamophobia, we have not. Being silent on the issues of atrocities committed in the name of Islam, Catholicism, the Religious Right, by Zionists who call the dispossession of the Palestinians Judaism, is a cowardly course, and is not at all what we can properly mean by religious tolerance.

  3. Jimmie King Avatar
    Jimmie King

    Sorry about the type”O”s, but with a 6th grade Education, I guess I have an excuse, maybe. ,, God Bless

  4. Jimmie King Avatar
    Jimmie King

    You are the BIGGEST Anti-Amkerican, Anti-Christ, Paid Socialist Group Lairs and Total Wasted of Tax Payer’s Money on Education I have ever came in Contact with in my Life. You are beyond the point of lacking in both Knowledge and Wisdom, you are a stinking shame a disgrace, as you take the Devil’s pulpit of Evil and Evil Ways. I was at that Protest, and on the line of YOUR children’s actions. And it was those of your pac that tried starting trouble more than once, remember, or was it you yourselves wasn’t even they and was setting around in the AC Offices raking in money from the ignorant-? When your Children of Ignorance were asked question about the Scriptures and even the 2 or 3 claiming to be Muslims were asked questions about Islam, none had any answers and fell back to resorting in anger. They had no answer as did not the couple of claiming to be disgraceful Christian Ministers who were there supporting you and the works of the Devil.

    You flat out LIED about the Citizens who had a Permit to Protest, as being well Funded. NO ONE was FUNDEDE or Paid to be there like those were in your disgusting Group were. We were there out of Christian Founding Principle this Country was Founded on and will remain. Most of our Group were Senior Citizens and many VETS, yours Children Group was made-up of still un-learned and still wet behind the ears kids on a Welfare High of “SEE ME, Look at me, AM I being Noticed. will I be on TV-?”

    Islam IS NOT a Religion, it is a Political Government Culture Cult (The Greenish-Pale Horse seen in REVELATION 6:8) and History and well over 260 MILLION Deaths at “PEACEFUL” Sharia Law Muslim’s Hands. As for Fearing Muslims and Islam, I fear my Dogs more and have far more Respect for them, because they can think for themselves, not follow a Dead Murder’s Note and man said Oral Notes and Wrting which are far from being Thruthful and Perfect as claimed (yet Changed a number of times also) by Muslims. And don’t tell me about Muslims, we had Muslim Friends and they were good people, but their Islam is trash and a destroyer of all that is good. ,, God Bless, Jimmie King

  5. George Fish Avatar
    George Fish

    I would like to draw readers’ attention to two recent contributions that I made to the discussion on Islamophobia that are published, web only, in Against the Current 146, following the articles there by Alex de Jong and David Finkel. Not only do these contributions of mine address the issue of Islamophobia, they go further to discuss the role of Islam in the modern world, pan-Arabism and the fight for a secular, democratic Palestine, among other things. I think any reader will find my two letters of comment informative and cogent, and so I bring them to readers’ attention.

  6. George Fish Avatar
    George Fish

    The atheist Voltaire said it well over two centuries ago: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.” This is the best statement of the positive right to free expression, an expression that not only have regligions historically denied to other religions, but of course, also to atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

    But the proper excerise of free speech must also be used to advance criticism, debate and dialogue. Islam as a religion sorely needs to be analyzed by the left today, same as both conservative and “liberal” Christianity. Religion is indeed still “the opium of the people.”

  7. Jase Avatar

    For links, photos, etc. go to http://www.facebook.com/MidTNRF?ref=ts