Long story short: It’s starting to become clear that some conservative groups think that if Muslims are able to worship on American soil, the terrorists have won.
In big cities and small rural communities, from New York to Tennessee to California, the right-wing fear machine is spinning up to take on the construction of mosques and Muslim community centers. In each case, the argument is essentially the same, when the hedging is peeled away: you don’t necessarily have to exercise your freedom of religion in the privacy of your own home, but hey, you can’t do it in public here either.
July is proving to be the month where the tea party movement is finally coming to grips with — and rebuking — some of its more racist elements, a move that many observers would say is a long time coming. But at the same time, plans to build an Islamic community center near the Ground Zero site in New York City has brought to the surface a different kind of bigotry among some conservatives — namely, the idea that if Muslims are allowed to worship where they want, terrorist violence will spread across the country.
The Ground Zero site — more precisely, a plot of land two blocks away from the site where the World Trade Center once stood — has been the subject of right-wing fear mongering for months now.
At best, you have criticisms like the one from the Washington Times editorial page back in May, which called an approval of the plan to build the 13-story cultural center an example of the “overweening and unnecessary deference to Muslims” that characterized America’s “effort to memorialize 9/11.”
At worst, you have the overt bigotry of Sarah Palin’s tweeted call for “peaceful Muslims” (that’d be ‘the good ones,’ for those scoring at home) to oppose the community center in New York, a move she suggested would show compassion towards those in the “heartland” for whom the idea of a building full of American Muslims doing two things the Constitution guarantees them the right to do — assembling and worshiping — in Lower Manhattan is a “stab…in the heart.”
Frankly, the New York story is probably enough to prove the point that fear of Muslims is the new, well, black among the right-wing crowd. But the Ground Zero site is far from the only Muslim construction project to cause a 5-alarm panic among conservatives. Over near the other shining sea in California, a Baptist congregation and a group calling itself the “Concerned Community Citizens” is ramping up opposition to the construction of a mosque and community center in Riverside County.
The proposed building has been in the works since 2000 and has the unanimous support of the area’s interfaith council. But area conservatives are starting to get antsy at the idea, worrying that unless some free exercise of religion is prohibited in California stat, the mosque could turn the county into “a haven for Islamic extremists,” as the Los Angeles Times reports:
“The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread,” Bill Rench, pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church, told the paper. “There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing.”
There’s a clear political bent to all of this hand-wringing about Muslim cultural centers and mosques on American soil. After all, there are quite a few Islamic houses of worship in the country already, and no Muslim fanatic has blown up a suicide bomb in Riverside County, California yet. This push to attack mosque construction has gone hand-in-hand with the uglier side of the tea party movement and other conservative resurgences following the election of Barack Obama to the White House. (Indeed, CAIR — the Muslim civil rights group — embraced the NAACP’s resolution about bigotry in the tea party movement shortly after the NAACP passed it.)
For another example of the ultra-right’s newest brand of fear politics in action, one need only look to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a small college town about an hour away from Nashville. In the contested 6th Congressional district Republican primary, Lou Ann Zelenik has attacked the other two Republicans running for not being incensed enough about the Muslim community’s plan to build a community center in the town. (There’s already a mosque in Murfreesboro, so Zelenik is stuck with being outraged over just the after-school programs and classrooms part of the equation here.)
In a web ad for her campaign, Zelenik makes no bones about what she’s running on — it’s fear, plain and simple. “Stand with Lou Ann against Muslim extremists,” the ad reads. And in a statement to the press about the community center, Zelenik make clear how far she’s willing to go to win with by fomenting intolerance toward Muslims:
“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,” she said.