Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, went to Murfreesboro, Tenn., last week in an attempt to reassure Muslims there who have been the victims of arson and vandalism.
The Nashville Scene reports that Perez traveled around Murfreesboro on Sept. 28, speaking to leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and other Muslims.
“Basically, what we’re being told is that if there’s any civil violation of the rights of the Muslim community here, they’ll step in,” said Abdou Kattih, vice president of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
“It was a very sobering meeting to listen to Murfreesboro leaders describe the climate of fear that they’re living in,” Perez told the Scene. The DOJ has said it is investigating several cases of potential hate crimes against Muslims, including the arson in Murfreesboro.
The Islamic center, which has been in Murfreesboro for decades, is building a new facility just outside the city, including a mosque. Some residents have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the mosque, and three are suing the county in an attempt to block its construction. They claim officials didn’t post proper notice of the meeting in which construction was approved.
Perez said the DOJ is seeing an uptick in the number of zoning challenges to mosques.
“We have seen a spike in the zoning confrontations, in efforts to keep mosques and the like from being built,” he said. “During times of uncertainty in our nation’s history, people often look for scapegoats.”
The mosque site has also been vandalized and was the victim of arson, when someone torched construction equipment at the site.