Dogs brought out to intimidate Muslims, signs spray-painted
MURFREESBORO (TENNESSEE): Muslims trying to build houses of worship in the nation's heartland - far from the heated fight in New York over plans for a mosque near the World Trade Center site - are running into opponents even more hostile and aggressive.
The 13-storey, US$100 million (S$135million) Islamic centre that could soon rise two blocks from the site of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York would dwarf proposals elsewhere. Yet, the smaller projects in local communities are stoking a sharper kind of fear and anger than has surfaced in New York.
In the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, opponents of a new Islamic centre say they believe the mosque will be more than a place of prayer. They are afraid the 6ha site that was once farmland will be turned into a terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the US government.
'They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,' said Mr Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area. Mr Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators recently who wore 'Vote for Jesus' T-shirts and carried signs that said 'No syariah law for USA!', referring to the Islamic code of law.
Others took their opposition further, spray-painting a sign announcing the 'Future site of the Islamic Centre of Murfreesboro' and tearing it up.
In Temecula, California, opponents brought out dogs to protest against a proposed 2,300 sq m mosque that would sit on 1.6ha next to a Baptist church. Opponents worry it will turn the town into a haven for Islamic extremists, but mosque leaders say they are peaceful and just need more room to serve members.
Islam is a growing faith in the US, though Muslims represent less than 1 per cent of the population. Ten years ago, there were about 1,200 mosques nationwide. Now there are roughly 1,900, according to Dr Ihsan Bagby, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and a researcher on surveys of American mosques.
The growth involves Islamic centres expanding to accommodate more Muslims - as is the case in New York, California and Tennessee - as well as mosques cropping up in smaller, more isolated communities, Dr Bagby said.
A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Centre found that 39 per cent of adult Muslims living in the US were immigrants who had come here since 1990.
'In every religious community, one of the things that has happened over the course of immigration is that people get settled and eventually build something that says, 'We're here. We're not just camping',' said Dr Diana Eck, a professor of comparative religion at Harvard University. 'In part, that's because those communities have put down roots in America and made this their home.'
A two-year study by a group of academics on American Muslims and terrorism concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. The study was conducted by professors from Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina.
It disclosed that many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programmes, sponsoring anti-violence forums and scrutinising teachers and texts.
Radicalisation of alienated Muslim youth is a real threat, Dr Bagby said. 'But the youth we worry about,' he said, 'are not the youth who come to the mosque.'
ASSOCIATED PRESS, NEW YORK TIMES
[It is sad that the country that claims for itself the role of promoting democracy and tolerance practices so little of it.]