Earlier this week, we delved into the growing anti-Muslim sentiment from conservatives — often taking the form of outraged opposition to the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers around the country. We offered three examples — the vitriol aimed cultural centers set to be built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Riverside County, California, and, of course, New York City — to show that the real problem conservatives have with new buildings for Muslims to worship in isn’t their proximity Ground Zero, but the very idea of new mosques themselves.
In the following days, reader emails poured in offering more examples of anti-mosque protests in all corners of the country. What’s particularly interesting is it’s not just new mosque construction that angers the right — even the idea of Muslims reusing existing, non-mosque-looking buildings seems to be a step too far for many Americans.
Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Let’s start in Wisconsin, where a plan to build a mosque in rural Sheboygan County drew much of the same anti-Mulsim rhetoric we’ve seen in New York and other places. Here’s the backstory, as reported by area Fox affiliate WITI-TV back in May:
About 25 Muslim families living in and around Sheboygan County are hoping to use a former health food store in the Town of Wilson as a Muslim mosque.
Seems simple enough. The leader of this movement to rezone an existing building for use as a mosque was “Dr. Mansoor Mirza,” a local physician, who purchased the old store along with “several others.” It didn’t take long for national conservatives to catch wind of the idea, and fire up the fearmongering.
“Our research shows that about 7 out of 10 mosques are using materials and teaching things, and calling for jihad, calling for the overthrow of our constitutional republic,” Guy Rodgers of Act For America — a national conservative group currently involved in the protest of the Islamic cultural center in New York — told a crowd at the First Reformed Church in Sheboygan County, according to WITI.
Act for America is labeled a “hate group” by CAIR, the Muslim civil rights group. CAIR calls the the head of Act For America, Brigitte Gabriel, an “extremist” and “anti-Islam.” On AFA’s website, the group says it was “created to provide American citizens a means to be a collective voice for the democratic values of Western Civilization, such as the celebration of life and liberty, as opposed to the authoritarian values of Islamofascism, such as the celebration of death, terror and tyranny.”
Some locals in Sheboygan seemed receptive to the message. “There’s some people that are afraid and they’re afraid for a good reason, because Islamic philosophy and ideology starts in a mosque and throughout the world Islamic terrorism comes from its roots and worship in the mosque,” one pastor told the television station.
The Sheboygan story had a somewhat happy ending for the mosque supporters involved, however. Despite the protests, the Wilson, Wisconsin board voted unanimously to allow the Muslims to worship in the old health food store. That’s the happy part. Here’s the “somewhat” part: shortly after the mosque opened, it was vandalized with “large asphalt chunks.”
Staten Island, New York. Lest we forget that Manhattan isn’t the only borough where New York Muslims might want to do that whole freely worshipping thing, the uproar caused by one Muslim group’s plan to convert an old convent into a mosque on Staten Island is a good reminder. Though protests of the Staten Island mosque are at times a bit different than those of the Sheboygan mosque, as WABC-TV reported in June, fear still plays the dominant role:
One of the issues opponents point to was a video, allegedly shot in 2000 that shows one of the Muslim group’s leaders at a rally cheering for the terrorist group Hamas. It is a stance he has since denied taking.
Here’s how fears like that sound at town meetings, according to the New York Times:
“Wouldn’t you agree that every terrorist, past and present, has come out of a mosque?” asked one woman who stood up Wednesday night during a civic association meeting.
Other protesters were more direct.
“We just want to leave our neighborhood the way it is - Christian, Catholic,” one local told WCBS-TV last month.
In the end, the Muslim group on Staten Island did not have the same (sort of) happy ending the Muslims in Sheboygan got. On Thursday, the church that owns the convent recanted its earlier agreement to sell it to the Muslim group and voted not to sell the convent.
So is this nationwide protest against new Muslim gathering places indicative of rising religious prejudice in the country? Muslim advocates say yes. A number of them told The Upshot this week that protests are on the rise — and that bigotry is more out in the open then ever.
“Everywhere there’s a mosque, there’s a tension now,” American University professor Akbar Ahmed told the website.
Note: This piece has been updated with more detailed information about Act For America.