Freedom of speech under attack by Islamophobes in Tennessee

Freedom of speech under attack by Islamophobes in Tennessee

by Sheila Musaji, TheAmericanMuslim.com

I’ve noted before that Pamela Geller Does Not Understand Freedom of Speech when she found fault with American Muslims and others for denouncing her hate ads.  This she called an attempt to “impose blasphemy restrictions on free speech”.  She does not understand that   Freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech.  She showed this same lack of understanding of freedom of speech when Al Jazeera came to the U.S.  In that case Pamela Geller Defended Free Speech By Calling for Censorship.  When a number of students at UC Irvine disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk, The Irvine 11: Freedom of Speech and Double Standards – 11 of those students were arrested and stood trial and the MSU on campus was censured for coordinating the protest.  Pamela Geller called the MSA suspension for disrupting the ambassador’s talk “a giant stop sign to the Islamic supremacism and jackbootery increasingly found on college campuses. America is waking up to the enemy in our midst.” 

Geller and her partner Robert Spencer actively promoted the recent protest in Tennessee.  In fact, Geller posted on Twitter  “Thousands gather at AFDI free speech demo in Tennessee”.  This means she is taking responsibility for this shameful display of bigotry.  Unless she believes that the organizers and participants in this protest should be censured or arrested just as those who disrupted Ambassader Oren’s talk were, then she is truly hypocritical when it comes to freedom of speech.  This protest was an egregious example of selective freedom of speech.

The background:  Last month, Coffee County, Tennessee commissioner Barry West posted a photo on Facebook of a man squinting down the barrel of a gun, with a caption reading, “How to wink at a Muslim.”  The Muslim community in Tennessee and across the nation was outraged, and many were frightened by the implications of the photo and caption, especially coming from an elected official. The photo below is a capture of the Facebook page by the Mail Online.  There is no way to see this as anything but threatening.

As Elizabeth Plank noted in an article on this incident:

… An endorsement of Islamophobia by an elected official can only make matters worse for a state that is the home of a frightening amount of anti-Muslim violence. “We know that these lead to discrimination and hate crimes in the Muslim community, and we are very wary of that,” said Sabina Mohyuddin. “I am a second-generation American. My children are third generation. We don’t see ourselves as anything but American,” she continued.

Daniel Tutt, an Episcopalian interfaith activist and a research fellow at the nonprofit Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, told USA Today that the best thing Barry West can do is publicly apologize and privately meet with Muslim families living in Coffee Country. “The initial reaction from Muslims will be, ‘This is unfortunate, but we’ve seen a lot of this.’ But it’s not acceptable. If the same thing were done to the Jewish or African-American communities, it would not be tolerated.” …

West ultimately issued a half-hearted apology after first denying that there was an issue and claiming it was only a joke. Look at this photograph and caption, and simply scroll through the article collection below containing many references to previous incidents in Tennessee, and consider whether or not a community that has seen so much hate directed towards it would see this as a joke.  In fact, simply change the wording and replace the word “Muslim” with a word descriptive of another community and see what your reaction would be.

how_to_wink_at_a_muslim

The American Muslim Advisory Council decided to host a meeting to allow local Muslims to share with their neighbors about who the Muslim community is, and to talk about American Muslims and public discourse, and they invited a representative of the DOJ and the FBI to attend and talk about what’s considered free speech and what’s illegal hate speech, and where the line is where speech can be prosecuted.    The situation in Tennessee was that there was a lot of tension between the Muslim community and their neighbors.  There had been a series of anti-Muslim incidents, and an elected official had posted something that the Muslim community believed to have crossed the line between protected speech and hate speech.  This is exactly the sort of situation that the DOJ’s community outreach program is designed to address.  Bill Killian, U.S., Attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee was to speak about the Constitution, the first and fourteenth amendments, and to clarify what constitutes hate speech, and what are the existing legal consequences.

A meeting was arranged and publicized and the Islamophobia network freaked out.  They made a number of ludicrous claims and totally misrepresented the meeting.

An article by Janet Levy titled The Not-So-Veiled Threat to Non-Muslims in Tennessee contains most of the misrepresentations that were repeated endlessly by the Islamophobia echo chamber.

Levy opened by saying that “Claims that American Muslims are loyal citizens, partners in counterterrorism investigations, part of radicalization prevention efforts, and an integral part of American society for centuries fell flat, especially coming from the host organization that was formed only two years ago in response to anti-shariah legislation in the Volunteer State.  A well-informed crowd responded with calls of “taqiyyah” when members of AMAC, a group that bills itself as “a bridge between the Muslim community and law enforcement,” touted Muslim contributions to U.S. society and their dedication to upholding American values. (Taqiyyah doctrine obligates Muslims to deceive infidels as part the required effort or jihad to institute Islamic doctrine or shariah). In actuality, Muslim organizations have specifically instructed Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement and have demanded that all counterterrorism-training materials be expunged of critical references to Islam and Muslims, as well the training instructors fired or retrained who fail to follow along.”

So, according to Levy, we are to understand that well informed people know that if American Muslims claim to be loyal citizens and an integral part of American society – they are lying (practicing taqiyya) and required to lie by their evil religion.

From there she goes on to make false claims about Muslims being forbidden to befriend non-Muslims, being required to wage jihad to establish a global Islamic government under Sharia, having aspirations to replace the Constitution with shariah, etc.  She also claims that no other group in the United States has been the focus of such a degree of attention and outreach, no outreach to Jews or other communities, the DOJ and FBI have not scheduled meetings addressing the concerns of any other group but Muslims.

This is the usual ploy of the Islamophobes.  No matter what the particular issue at hand, rather than dealing with facts, they throw in every negative aspersion they can to demonize the religion of Islam, and Muslims in general.  It is exhausting to have to constantly respond not only to the particular issue at hand, but to all the bigoted claims added on to prove to their audience that Muslims are somehow unique and dangerous.  All of the claims that Levy makes in her despicable tirade have been previously addressed.  Here are responses to specific charges made by Levy in this article:

— Qur’an 5:51 Can Muslims Have Non-Muslims as Friends? – The Concept of Wilaya in the Qur’an; — How mainstream Muslims understand the term “jihad”;— Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha Arbitration Courts;— The Return of the Caliphate?;— The Taqiyya Libel Against Muslims;— American Muslims must defend the Constitution of the United States;— Muslims are a part of our American heritage;— Historic events and people that shaped the American Muslim community;— Does CAIR tell Muslims not to talk to the FBI?The False Claim that Muslims have no programs to counter radicalization;— A defense of free speech by American and Canadian Muslims;— Where is the U.S. Government Getting It’s Information on Islam and Muslims? (training scandals);— FCNA Resolution: On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans

As to all the other constantly repeated claims about Islam and Muslims, the meaning of terms, interpretation of scripture, etc. please see Resources for dealing with Islamophobia and Islamophobesfor responses to these and numerous other claims.

Actually, having representatives of the DOJ, FBI, or other government agencies speak to minority groups about issues of particular concern to various groups, and about civil rights and constitutional issues is not at all unusual.  Just last month, Attorney General Eric Holder of the DOJ spoke at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Centennial Summit.  In his speech he discussed the history of the fight against anti-Semitism, against discrimination, and for civil rights.  The fact that such work remains unfinished, and that challenges and threats still lie before us.  “And the path to ensuring equality, opportunity, and justice for all – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or walk of life – still stretches beyond the horizon.”

In fact, a statement Mr. Holder made to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) applies equally to this meeting in Tennessee (just replace Jewish community with Muslim community):

That’s why gatherings like this one are so critical. By fostering constructive dialogue, by standing firm against discrimination, by monitoring hateful activities, by studying the roots of extremism, by defending the security of Jewish populations around the globe, and by educating policymakers, law enforcement leaders, and members of the public – ADL is proving every day that the changes we seek are possible. You’re showing that the results our citizens deserve are not beyond our reach. And you’re strengthening the ability of our nation’s Justice Department to advance these vital efforts.

More than three decades ago, ADL stepped to the forefront of this work – pioneering a model hate crime law that has since inspired similar statutes in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Across the country, you’ve helped guide the implementation and enforcement of these and corresponding federal laws – including right here in Washington.

During the 1990s – when I served as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia – I worked closely with David Friedman to create a Hate Crimes Working Group to build engagement between community leaders, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and the D.C. residents they were sworn to serve. Under my predecessor, Attorney General Janet Reno, this approach was widely replicated across the country. And, on an even larger scale, ADL’s efforts to support and educate law enforcement with innovative training programs – in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – have helped to reinforce the values of tolerance and respect for our nation’s diverse population.

To date, more than 80,000 law enforcement officials – including all new FBI agents – have taken part in this training. At every level of today’s Justice Department, my colleagues and I have been proud to work with ADL in broadening the impact of your efforts. We’ve partnered with you to develop cutting-edge resources like the FBI’s new Hate Crime Training Manual. And we’ve been fortunate to stand together in calling for the passage of important legislative tools, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that has enabled us to take these comprehensive efforts to new heights.

…  We can all be proud of the Justice Department’s comprehensive civil rights enforcement efforts – and our ongoing work to bring about long-overdue reforms. We can be encouraged by the results of our close collaboration with ADL – in building new safeguards for vulnerable populations and securing needed changes to help guard against bigotry. Together, we’re upholding the values that have defined this organization over the past century, and the principles that lie at the heart of our justice system.

…  We must also continue to move forward in preserving our democratic ideals and ensuring fair treatment for all – even, and especially, in moments of great difficulty.

…  In July of last year, the Department filed suit against a Tennessee county for discriminating against local Muslims by refusing to allow a new mosque to open. ADL wrote and filed a brief to aid in this case, on behalf of a broad interfaith coalition. The congregation encountered vandalism, threats of violence, and steep public opposition. But the Department obtained a court order requiring county authorities to stand aside and honor First Amendment rights – and the congregation was permitted to worship in their new facility.

This action, and many others like it, prove the Department’s determination to safeguard the core Constitutional protections that stand at the center of who we are as a nation – and that have always empowered the ADL to bridge divides and promote cooperation over conflict. As Americans, we must not allow any group to be stigmatized or alienated. We must not tolerate acts of hatred. And we must reaffirm every day – through our actions as well as our approach – that justice and public safety are not in tension. They rely upon one another.  …

This meeting in Tennessee was exactly the same sort of effort against Islamophobia as previous and continuing efforts against anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry.

Here are just a few examples of such community meetings and presentations by U.S. Attorneys and other DOJ officials to many different minority communities:

— In Ohio “the office hosts meetings open to the broader community to discuss a wide range of topics. In the past year alone, the U.S. Attorney has spoken to community groups about hate crimes, hosted meetings focused on ways to reduce bullying in schools and convened a meeting a local mosque to hear concerns to security restrictions at airports and border crossings, to name a few.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI convene quarterly meetings with community leaders, interested stakeholders and members of Northern Ohio’s minority communities. The office has partnered with The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio and holds the meeting in important locations in the community, from a Sikh gurdwara to a center of Cleveland’s Vietnamese community. By sharing our collective experiences and stories, we hope to continue to creat understanding and respect between all our various cultures.”  [url=http://www.justice.gov/usao/ohn/programs/outreach.html]***[url]
— In California “Scams targeting seniors and the elderly are on the rise in the Internet Age and consumer protection experts advise that education is the most important element of a successful fraud prevention program. With that goal in mind, on November 13, 2012, the Central District of California teamed up with Bet Tzedek Legal Services of Los Angeles to produce a short program to educate local seniors on scams and how to avoid being victimized by fraud. U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr., Sandy Samuels of Bet Tzedek and Debbie Deem of the L.A. Regional Office of the FBI led an interactive presentation for seniors.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office participated in a community meeting in conjunction with the “Stand UP and Speak Out Against Bullying” Campaign.  Hosted by the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Valley Division, the Reseda Neighborhood Council and the Reseda Magnet School, the meeting at Reseda H.S. brought together more than 200 students, parents, teachers and other interested parties. ***
— In Alabama, A meeting in Birmingham, Alabama between FBI officials and representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Birmingham-area les­bian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations.
—- In D.C. U.S. Attorneys, and Police addressed a neighborhood meeting of the Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Commission to discuss urban crime and violence ***.  The D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office staff attend approximately sixty community meetings and events a month. These meetings are held by civic associations, local government, and the Metropolitan Police Department. During these meetings, in an effort to improve transparency in the criminal justice system, community prosecutors educate the community about our Office including giving insight on our bond determinations, charging decisions, and sentencing allocutions. We also educate the community about the inter-workings of the criminal justice system. In an effort to formalize this educational component, we have piloted a new program called “Witness for the Prosecution” Over a period of several sessions, this program educates the community about the criminal justice and our Office’s role in the criminal justice system. In the coming year, we should look towards expanding this program to marginalized communities, such as the Muslim, Ethiopian, Hispanic and Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered communities. Moreover, during these community meetings we receive various nuisance abatement complaints. In an effort to address and document these complaints, we have drafted a Nuisance Abatement form which standardized how we receive complaints and disseminate these complaints to the appropriate agency.  ***  On October 3, 2012, the Civil Rights Division and the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Department of Justice hosted a Roundtable on Religion-Based Hate Crimes at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building Conference Center. Representatives from 22 religious and interfaith organizations representing a broad array of religious communities participated in a discussion about data collection and reporting relating to religion-based attacks on individuals and places of worship, and the adequacy of current categories in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.  Diverse religious groups presented anecdotal and survey evidence about hate crimes against Sikhs and Hindus, as well as against Arab Americans, and recommended that these be added as categories in the Uniform Crime Reports to help better understand religious and ethnicity-based hate crimes. Changes to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports are considered by the Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board, a board made up of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials and subject matter experts. The Board then makes recommendations to the FBI Director. ***
— In Arizona, the Southern Arizona Hate Task Force met with elected officials, the acting U.S. Attorney and members of the FBI in forums designed to inform the public about how they can report allegations of police misconduct, about the elements of a hate crime, and what to do if they have been a victim of a hate crime. They’ve even launched a website designed to provide community members with factual information about hate crimes and links to important local resources.  ***  U.S. Attorney Burke’s civil rights focus has been instrumental in addressing community conflict by recognizing that some communities, particularly those of color, race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, are at higher risk of discrimination and the possible threat of violence. The office has held community civil rights forums to ensure that people are aware of their civil rights and know whom to contact if they or someone they know is a victim of a hate crime. U.S. Attorney’s Office personnel have also reached out to local law enforcement and provided training on the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, forging partnerships that have facilitated better communication among state, local, and federal agencies.  Through the efforts of its Civil Rights Unit and Community Outreach component, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona has held community forums with Latino and African American communities to address issues of immigration and police misconduct. The office has also conducted community forums that target faith-based groups, including interfaith groups, boards of Rabbis, and outreach to Arizona’s Islamic centers. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona also regularly holds forums with sexuality and gender identity-based communities to build trusting relationships with law enforcement.  ***
— In Minnesota, in the aftermath of the burning of an Amish barn, CRS worked with Amish leaders and local police to develop an agenda for a town hall style meeting. The town hall meeting provided non-Amish community members with an understanding of the history and background on the Amish way of life in an effort to prevent future misunderstandings, biased-based incidents, and hate crimes. ***
— In Connecticut, Civil rights outreach by US Attorneys of the DOJ included:  Visits to two New Haven schools in celebration and recognition of Black History Month. Our presentations to students at Micro Society Magnet School and Hill Central Music Academy began with a discussion of prominent African Americans in recent history and important moments in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We then engaged the students in a discussion about hate crimes by using the example of a civil rights prosecution handled by this office, asking the students “What would you do?” and “How would you feel?” if you were a victim of or witness to the offensive conduct. We finished with a vibrant discussion about bullying and its consequences. They joined with the FBI’s Atlanta Division to host the nation’s first community conference to discuss implementing and enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We recognized that members of the community, and particularly those citizens who the new law is primarily designed to protect, may not be knowledgeable about the changes in the law. Moreover, we believed that state and local officers, who are the first responders to incidents that might qualify as hate crimes, needed training not only on the changes to the statute, but also on enhancing their community outreach efforts so that victims are empowered to report violations. Consequently, we convened members of community groups along with hundreds of officers and agents from local, state and federal law enforcement organizations for a day-long event at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Through speakers and panel discussions, participants shared important information about investigating, prosecuting and preventing hate crimes, while also encouraging communications and building trust between law enforcement and these community groups. ***

This meeting, unlike the hundreds of other meetings across the country with various minority groups, did not go smoothly, and was overwhelmed by the followers of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer who had posted appeals to meet in Tennessee for a protest against what they termed an attempt to take away their right to freedom of speech and “impose Sharia blasphemy laws” in the U.S.

Here is what then took place:

Nashville Scene posted the entire 1 hour and 39 minute VIDEO of the event.

Charles Johnson reported Pamela Geller at Tennessee Anti-Muslim Protest: “Without Freedom of Speech We Must Resort to Violence”.  He includes a video that Geller posted of her speech to the crowd outside the meeting and he notes that “Geller even hints around about using violence against Muslims, starting at about 4:50 into the video.  Geller says:  There are no Jews, they’re all leaving Norway. They’re fleeing France, they’re fleeing the UK. Christians can’t wear a cross in the UK. For us, Europe’s a cautionary tale. We are only five to ten years behind Europe.  And I will tell you that freedom of speech is a line in the sand because, without freedom of speech peaceful men must resort to violence. [shouting] AND WE DON’T WANT TO!  Right, you don’t want to. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)”

Other statements by Geller in the course of her tirade:  – The first amendment protects all speech, not just speech that we like – We’re speaking out against the most brutal and oppressive ideology on the planet – Truth is the new hate speech – The justice dept under the Obama admin has become a de facto legal arm of the Muslim Brotherhood – We need an army, the time is now to stand up …

NEWS21 reported Muslim group’s TN forum with feds disrupted by heckling  “During the keynote speech given by Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee, audience members continually interrupted, making it difficult to understand what was said. Killian brought a PowerPoint presentation that covered the First and 14th amendments and what constitutes a hate crime, among other things. He read the First Amendment verbatim, between interruptions. …  Former “Saturday Night Live” star Victoria Jackson was among the protesters.  “The Constitution and Sharia cannot coexist,” she said. “Islam is evil.”

A Times Free Press article U.S. Attorney Bill Killian greeted by hostile crowd at Manchester, Tenn., free speech event included this strange statement:  “Some people at the impromptu rally were handing out anti-Islamic literature, other patriotic materials and some Christian materials as several speakers were using a megaphone to work up the crowd.  One man’s sign read: “In America, you are free to practice your religion, and I am free to insult it.”  I would hope that this was a typo, and that they did not actually mean to say that “anti-Islamic literature” is equivalent to “other patriotic materials”.

Pam Strickland wrote in the Knox News Irony goes over protesters’ heads.  She gives a detailed description of events during the meeting including:  “… During the outdoor rally, one woman with a bullhorn declared that “Islam does not deserve the protection of the First Amendment.” Others carried anti-Muslim signs.  None of the signs spoke of religions other than Islam, but the underlying theme was that Christianity was the preferred religion the First Amendment was written to protect. If that were the case, why would we need the First Amendment? Some would say to protect different Christian denominations. Only that’s not what the First Amendment says. It says religion, and it doesn’t have any exceptions written into it. It protects all religions — period.  … ”

An editorial in the Tullahoma News Actions at diversity meeting shameful  noted that:

There was no door to stand in front of that kept black students from entering, and there were no police officers arresting black citizens as they attempted to eat at a counter with the words “whites only” emblazoned on the wall above their heads.  But little else distinguished Tuesday night’s event at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center from those hate-filled, racist gatherings of days past.

Organized and sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council, headquartered in Murfreesboro, the event, called “Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society,” was billed as an educational opportunity for the public to learn about American Muslims, as well as how the civil rights of all citizens are protected under the United States Constitution.

It was the result of a recent Facebook reposting by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West in which a man is pictured pointing a gun at a camera with words that read, “How to wink at a Muslim.” West has since apologized for the post and removed it, but not before the story about his posting went viral.

While, undoubtedly, some of the nearly 1,000 people who attended the event and preceding anti-Muslim and “free speech” rally were there to listen and learn, the overwhelming majority had another intention in mind – to intimidate, undermine and disrupt the event.

Their stated reason for being there? To protest what bloggers had called the government’s attempts to take away an individual’s First Amendment rights to post whatever he or she chooses on social media sites without repercussion.  The real reason, however, became apparent shortly after the presentation began.

Wrapped in American flags and waving Bibles, the protesters shouted, “speak English” at a Muslim man who has been in the United States for three decades. They cheered and clapped at photos of a burned mosque in Columbia, Tenn. They booed at photos of American Muslim soldiers killed while serving their country in the United States militaryThey accused all Muslims of being terrorists and yelled at them to “go home.”  Those who couldn’t get inside for the presentation due to overcrowded conditions called law enforcement officers “communists.” One man, who donned a confederate soldier’s cap, shouted, “Mohammed was a pedophile!”

There is no doubt that the majority of the people in Coffee County are embarrassed and ashamed by the actions of the people gathered at this assembly, and that many, if not the majority, of those in attendance, were from out of town. …

And finally, Hate Comes to Manchester, Tennessee by Drost Kokoye.  This is a first-hand account by one of the Muslim attendees/organizers of the “Public Discourse in a Diverse Society” forum, that was disrupted by anti-Islam hate groups in Manchester, TN. Although this incident was widely reported on in various media, many outlets left out the depth of hate that was on display Tuesday evening.

In recent years, there has been an alarming surge in anti-Islam hate group activity in Tennessee, especially in areas such as Rutherford and Coffee Counties.  This virulent hate was fully on display Tuesday night at the “Public Discourse in a Diverse Society” forum in Manchester.

Since 2010, our community has seen a concerted effort being made to demonize the religion of Islam and its adherents, with hate groups from all over the nation using our state as a staging ground for spewing negative propaganda.  This includes the effort to block the construction of the Murfreesboro Mosque, to the faux-outrage created when an elected official mistook a mop-sink in the state legislature for a “Muslim foot-bath.” Legislators who have fallen under the influence of these groups introduced an “anti-Sharia bill,” which would have made the practice of Islam punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  Additionally, we have seen a normalization of increasingly violent rhetoric – such as a Facebook posting by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West, depicting a gun being pointed at Muslims.

Commissioner West’s posting “How to Wink at a Muslim” garnered national attention, due to the overt call to violence against a specific minority group.  Local Muslim groups such as the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC) and the American Center for Outreach (ACO) immediately asked West to issue an apology, due to the aggressive nature of the post in addition to Mr. West being a public official.  As this story went viral on social media, many key players in the Islamophobia industry latched themselves to the story, criticizing AMAC and ACO for demanding an apology.  Much to the chagrin of the anti-Islam groups, Mr. West issued an apology for his irresponsible post the next day.

Tuesday evening, the American Muslim Advisory Council hosted about “Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society” in Manchester, TN, as an open forum to discuss the dangerous effects of the rhetoric that was espoused by Mr. West in his post.  Those within well-funded Islamophobia Industry – such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer from the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) saw this as an ideal opportunity to fan the flames of hate in our back yard.  And while their so-called protest was done so under the guise of “defending free speech,” the reality is that the public is unaware of the nefarious affiliations of such groups.

Geller and Spencer and their organizations are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate group leaders.”  They hold close affiliations with the English Defense League – a Neo-Nazi affiliated group that has employed violent tactics against the Muslim community in the UK.  Both Geller and Spencer were cited extensively (174 times between the two) in mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto, which was written shortly before he murdered over 80 people in Norway.  To put it plainly, these individuals recognized widely as being extremists – therefore it is highly concerning that so many citizens of Tennessee have bought into their overt message of hate and bigotry.

Groups like the TN Eagle Forum and ACT for America (also listed as nativist and hate groups, respectively) called for thousands of their followers to come to this public forum to “stand up for their first amendment rights” that they claimed AMAC is trying to limit. These groups turned out people from all over Tennessee. Personally, I spoke with folks from Bristol, Sparta, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Tullahoma. They showed up in front of the Manchester Coffee County Conference Center hours before the forum. Geller and Spencer joined in around 5:30pm, ensuring the crowd was primed and riled up – including rhetoric that alluded to justifying violence.

After the outdoor protest, waves of people flooded the hall at 6:20pm.  All the seats were taken with in the first five minutes so people started to post up along the walls, near the doors, outside the doors, in the lobby, and all the way out to the entrance of the building.

The AMAC program had yet to begin, when Eagle Forum members (who also brought their own American flag) took it upon themselves to stand up and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.”  Everyone else in the room, Eagle Forum member or not, joined them, for one of the most aggressive recitations of the Pledge that I’ve ever heard, followed by a long and loud applause.

At 6:30 pm, Zak Mohyuddin, an AMAC Board Member and long time resident of Coffee County, began the forum with an introduction to who and what AMAC is.

Before he could even get a sentence out, he was interrupted by a comment from the audience, “speak English!”

The panel continued as follows:

Zulfat Suara – AMAC Board Chair

Dorothy Zwayyed – AMAC East Tennessee Coordinator

Sabina Mohyuddin – AMAC Board Member and long time Coffee County resident

Bill Killian – U.S. Attorney DOJ Eastern District of Tennessee

Kenneth L. Moore – special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville Division

Throughout the program, the speakers were plagued with interruptions, jeers and epithets being lobbed at them. Whenever examples of cooperation between the American Muslim community and law enforcement were highlighted, the crowd would yell, “Infiltrators,” Terrorists,” and “go home! 

As a representative of the Muslim community who was participating in the forum, the words of hate that I heard spoken on this day are something that I will not forget for a long time.

As I stood up to gather index cards for the Q&A session, a man from the crowd said, “Watch out, she might blow up!”  – Which was met by rousing laughter, rather than disgust.

As one of the Muslim speakers from the event finished, another individual exclaimed “FINALLY!  Can we burn her at the stake now?” – which was also met by laughter and cheers.

When bullying and discrimination that kids face in schools was brought up, one woman yelled,“Leave our children out of this. They hate you.”

Finally, during a portion of the presentation – a picture of a mosque, which had been destroyed by arson, was shown.  Rather than responding with compassion, the hateful attendees responded with applause and cheers.

Although the goal of the forum was to foster dialog and positive engagement – it is clear that Geller, Spencer and the hate groups came to cause divisiveness and hate.  It is saddening that some Tennesseans have succumbed to this temptation, as it brings back dark memories from our nation’s past.  On a positive note, many in attendees from the community greeted us with goodwill and assured us that the haters do not represent them or the majority of people out there.  Though a small gesture, this helped end an otherwise tense night on a positive note.  As we move forward from this eye-opening evening – the hope is that Tennesseans will take the lead in denouncing and marginalizing these fringe groups, while fostering an environment of positivity and inclusion.

NPR: Fears About Shariah Law Take Hold In Tennessee

Isn’t this one of the most understated NPR titles ever? Many, including us have been reporting about this phenomenon for some time now.

A good article that highlights how the anti-Shariah legislation is really a “solution in search of a problem.” (h/t: Critical Dragon)

Fears About Shariah Law Take Hold In Tennessee

(NPR)

It’s getting tougher to be a Republican in some parts of the country while also fully accepting the practice of Islam.

In Tennessee, an incumbent in the U.S. House found herself on the defensive after being called soft on Shariah law, the code that guides Muslim beliefs and actions. And the state’s governor has been forced to explain why he hired a Muslim.

Lee Douglas, a dentist just south of Nashville and an anti-Shariah activist, points to the Muslim woman hired in Tennessee’s economic development office as evidence of an “infiltration” of Islam in government. Douglas helped draft a resolution criticizing the governor and Islam. A version of the document has been signed by a growing list of GOP executive committees, from rural counties to the state’s wealthiest.

“By stopping this now, we’re going to save ourselves a lot of difficulty in the future,” he says.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam defends his Muslim staffer’s credentials and says she grew up in a small town. “This is somebody who is very Tennessee,” says the governor.

The fact that she’s a fellow Tennessean hasn’t silenced the critics.

The number of Muslims in Tennessee remains tiny, but it is growing. Many come as refugees. Others are college professors. They’re planting roots in one of only three states where, according to a Pew Forum survey, more than half of the population is evangelical protestant.

Douglas believes Islam is diametrically opposed to his faith.

“I don’t want anybody to persecute any religion including Islam, but we have a duty as Americans to understand that they intend to take us over and compel us to become Islamic,” Douglas says.

The First Amendment may provide the freedom to practice all religions, but, according to Douglas, the “government is showing a deference and is accommodating one single religion — Islam, Shariah,” he says.

 This is somebody who is very Tennessee.
– Gov. Bill Haslam, defending his Muslim staffer

Douglas says deference should be shown to the religion of the country’s Founding Fathers. Instead, Douglas sees the Justice Department making sure a mosque in nearby Murfreesboro could open despite legal challenges.

Rebin Omer attended the first prayers in that mosque. The Kurdish refugee dismisses claims that Islam is violent.

“We haven’t seen anything like that from our upbringing or anything, so it’s kind of surprising, but the First Amendment gives you the right to worship any religion you want,” Omer says.

As one of a thousand mosques built in the U.S. over the past decade, this Islamic center ignited debate across the country and political spectrum — from pulpit pastors to wealthy Republican donors. Health care investor Andy Miller tries to isolate his concerns to the moral code laid out in Muslim holy books, where he finds discrimination toward women.

“I am not anti-Muslim at all. I don’t hate anybody. But I do have issues with Shariah law. When you look at Shariah law, it’s so antithetical to the things that we hold dear as Americans,” Miller says.

This year, Miller pumped a couple hundred-thousand dollars into superPACs supporting a candidate who shares his views. Lou Ann Zelenik made Islam a campaign issue in both of her failed but fiery bids for Congress.

While Zelenik lost to Rep. Diane Black again in this month’s Republican primary, Black felt pressure to show toughness.

“I understand the devastation that Shariah law could mean here in our country, and I’m a sponsor of a bill that will once again say that the United States Constitution is our law and that it is the supreme law,” Black said.

Besides the federal legislation, more than 20 states have considered bills banning the use of Shariah law. The proposals are a solution in search of a problem, according to many. But to the anti-Shariah crowd, they are another way to get their fears taken seriously.

Islamophobes of Murfreesboro Fail: Islamic Center Opens

 

After more than two years of loony anti-Muslim hate the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was finally able to open its doors to worshippers. The hate brigades were largely silent with the exception of one sole protester and disgraced blogger Eric Allen Bell (Eric Edborg) soliciting donations to keep the “fight” against “Muslims” alive.

After a Struggle, Mosque Opens in Tennessee

(NewYorkTimes)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The worshipers bowed low, their heads touching the freshly laid carpet, as the new mosque filled with echoes of exultation.

“God, thank you for the ability to worship here today,” said Remziya Suleyman, 27. “Thank you, thank you.”

After years of threats, attacks and court action, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque opened its doors Friday, allowing 300 people to mark the occasion on Islam’s day of weekly public prayer. After the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday and an arson attack on a mosque in Missouri on Monday, the opening went off without the protests or violence that some had feared.

Muslims from across Tennessee gathered at the 12,000-square-foot center to begin the final week of Ramadan. The congregation’s former building was so small that members often spilled into the parking lot and car-pooled to save parking spaces. Here, they fit comfortably.

“We’re all humbly enjoying the right to worship, an American tradition that a small minority tried to eliminate out of ignorance and misunderstanding,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who flew here from Washington.

For two years, the opposition in this city of 110,000 about 30 miles southeast of Nashville has been small but vocal. In 2010, vandals painted “not welcome” on construction signs at the mosque and set fire to construction equipment. A Texas man was indicted in June on charges that he left messages threatening to detonate a bomb at the center on Sept. 11.

In May, a county judge ruled that the construction plans had not received sufficient comment from the public and that an occupancy permit could not be granted. Federal prosecutors filed a discrimination lawsuit, and a federal judge ruled in the mosque’s favor last month.

Only one opponent of the mosque came to voice his concerns at the opening. Dan J. Qualls, 50, a former auto plant worker, wearing an “I Love Jesus” hat and a Ten Commandments shirt, said he understood that the First Amendment protected the right to worship freely but said he believed Islam represented violence. When he heard about the mosque’s opening on the local TV news, he decided to come out and “represent the Christians.”

“My honest opinion is, I wish this wasn’t here,” he said.

The mosque prayer hall forms just one part of the center, which will eventually be expanded to more than 50,000 square feet to include a gym, a swimming pool and other facilities, said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member. The prayer hall itself, about 4,500 square feet, can hold up to 500 people, but has a movable wall to divide the area to allow for other uses, like interfaith events with churches, synagogues and other religious groups.

The center is in a quiet, suburban neighborhood, beside a Baptist church. On Friday, workers hoisted an American flag up a pole.

Many in Murfreesboro have embraced the congregation’s right to worship freely. “That religious organization has been treated just exactly as we treat any other religious group,” said Ernest Burgess, the mayor of Rutherford County. “It has been a difficult struggle through the legal process. But we treated these people fairly, as they deserved.”

Mr. Sbenaty said the center will hold an official, full-scale opening in several weeks after a permanent certificate of occupancy is issued, but on Friday the prayer hall was opened for the weekly Friday worship, known as jumaa. He estimated there were about 250 to 300 Muslim families in the area who would likely be regularly served by the center.

Mr. Sbenaty said the center’s members were “very concerned” about safety after the Sikh temple shooting near Milwaukee and the fire at the mosque in Joplin, Mo., and had hired a private security team. “Even before those incidents, we were the subject of vandalism, intimidation, arson and bomb threats,” he said. “We are not new to this. But we are not going to be deterred. We are not going to give up our rights just because somebody is going to threaten us.”

Joe Brandon Jr., a lawyer representing several Murfreesboro residents who sued to block the mosque, could not be reached.

Robbie Brown reported from Murfreesboro, and Christine Hauser from New York.

Lou Ann Zelenik Uses Abacus to Figure Out Islam is 15% Religion, 85% Political

OK, so I don’t know how Zelenik came up with these numbers, but she’s sticking to them:

Zelenik: “15% Of Islam Is A Religion, 85% Political.”

(newschannel5)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The question of religion is playing a major role in one of the most heated congressional primary races in the country.

Republican Lou Ann Zelenik is challenging incumbent republican Diane Black in the sixth congressional district. When asked if she believed if Islam was a real religion, Zelenick said she believed it to be mostly political.

“I consider 15 percent of Islam a religion, 85 percent political. It’s a total way of life. The only ones who do not call Islam a religion are the Muslims because it’s not a religion,” said Zelenik.

News Channel 5 Investigative reporter Ben Hall asked Zelenik asked if she felt Islam was a real religion or something else Zelenik was clear.

“I will tell you I don’t agree with everything that they say in the Islamic religion or ideology or whatever you want to call it, but I think it has been established by the Federal government and it’s protected as a religion and that’s what I am going to abide by is the law,” she said.

The entire interview of both candidates, including their take on the negative ads that have been such a big part of this campaign will air on Inside Politics on News Channel 5+ at 7 p.m. on July 27 or at 5 a.m. Sunday, July 29 on News Channel 5.

Clergy Beyond Borders Embark on an Interfaith Caravan Trip

Just look at the difference between Clergy Beyond Borders and hatemongers such as SIOA’s Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. One group (guess who) promotes pluralism, respect for our Constitution and freedom while the other one sows divisiveness, hate and thrives off of fear.

Clergy Beyond Borders Embark on an Interfaith Caravan Trip

Symi Rom-Rymer (Huffington Post)

An unusual vehicle is stuck in traffic on the highway from Nashville to Murfreesboro, T.N. It may look like an everyday passenger van but a glance inside tells a different story. Two imams, two rabbis and one evangelical pastor sit cheek-by-jowl with boxes of interfaith material blocking the back windows. With the rain pelting against the windows, the pastor and one of the rabbis pull up Facebook, excitedly checking how many friends they have in common. The conversation swings from good-natured teasing to philosophical discussions and disheartening stories of humiliation suffered in a post-9/11 world. This drive is just one of many this group will have taken together by the end of their 15-day Religious Leaders for Reconciliation ride through cities in the American South and Midwest. Their goal is to bring a message of unity and of interfaith understanding to a country they feel is forgetting what that means.

“A rabbi next to an imam, next to an evangelical minister: it sounds strange,” explains Imam Yahya Hendi, founder of Clergy Beyond Borders, the organization sponsoring the ride, and the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. “But this is the America dream. This is what America makes possible. This could be a joke in Saudi Arabia or maybe in Pakistan. This could never be a joke in the United States of America. This is a dream we need to protect. This is the reality we need to nurture.”

Deep recessions in the United States in the past have resulted in high levels of intolerance of immigrants and other minority groups. “History suggests that the quality of our democracy — more fundamentally, the moral character of American society — would be at risk if we experienced a many-year downturn,” Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman predicted in “Meltdown, a Case Study,” in The Atlantic in 2005.

For the clergy in the van, Friedman’s 2005 predictions are today’s realities. The stresses of the last decade have thrown American racism and prejudice into stark relief. An atmosphere of suspicion and misunderstanding has taken root, poisoning the religious and cultural plurality that many Americans point to with great pride. The motto of the trip is “One Ark, One Humanity,” drawing from the premise that followers of the three Abrahamic faiths share the same ancestor, Noah. In other words, to ignore that bond is to ignore one’s own faith. By talking about each of the religious traditions and better understanding them, the clergy hope to break down barriers between the practitioners of each of the faiths. Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, a ride participant said, “I don’t actually think as a Jew, that I know everything there is to know about God and about religious truth. I love my tradition, I read the text of my tradition, but it’s been my experience with Christians and Muslims that what I’ve learned [from them] enriches me, makes me a better Jew and makes me see things in my own tradition that I didn’t see before.”

The destination today is Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, T.N., the ninth city on the tour. While much of the media and political attention last year was focused on whether to build Park 51, the proposed Muslim cultural center in downtown New York, Murfreesboro was struggling with its own divisive debates over the building of a new mosque. No sooner had the land been secured, some members of the community opposed it. Bringing the matter to court over zoning laws, the case attracted the attention of national conservative groups. Soon, it was no longer about the legality of building the mosque but rather a referendum on American Muslims and on Islam itself. The Los Angeles Times reported that conservative activists were brought into Murfreesboro to say in court that “American Muslims — including those in Murfreesboro — want to impose Shari’a, or Islamic law, on the United States, and that the proposed mosque, gymnasium and swimming pool were part of a ‘stealth jihad.’” Meanwhile, the county’s planning commission argued that Islam was not a religion and therefore not eligible to own land for religious purposes.

The Judge ultimately ruled in favor of the Muslim community but just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the local Islamic Center received a bomb threat. Thus far, no contractor is willing to take on the project of building the mosque.

In the van, this recent history is well known. There was some anxiety as the group rolled closer to the destination. The event, co-sponsored by the MTSU Muslim Student Association, the Wesley Foundation and the Jewish Student Union, would be open to the public. One of the clergy remarked that earlier in the day while in Nashville, he was told that he would be going to ‘Ground Zero.’ His students at Duke University told him that they looked forward to seeing him if he got back, not when.

The program at MTSU was billed as an interfaith event but Islam and Muslims were firmly at the center of the discussion. Could this panel of clergy bring some words of reconciliation or encouragement to this town torn apart by anger and suspicion? Imam Hendi, with great verve and enthusiasm, tried to impress upon his audience the seriousness with which he takes the American ideals of religious plurality and freedom. “Many years ago,” he thundered to the crowd, “I wanted to live free and I knew only in America can I live free. Only in the pluralistic, diverse America, can I be myself and I want America to continue to be pluralistic, to continue to be diverse. That is why I will continue to live in the United State of America. Not because I want it to be a Muslim America. No! If America wants to become Muslim, let me know so that I can move elsewhere.”

Laughter and applause greeted his words, but skepticism lingered. In this traditionally Christian majority community, some wanted to know if by advocating for religious pluralism, these clergy were really advocating for an amalgamation of the three religions. Absolutely not, was the immediate reply. “I am an exclusivist,” expanded Reverend Steve Martin. “How do I square that then with interfaith dialogue? Calling myself a Christian or claiming a certain faith experience doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. Although I believe the truth of the faith that I claim is definitive, there’s a lot that I can learn about that faith by interacting with, by loving and caring, and deeply deeply respecting brothers and sisters of other pathways and other faiths. ”

Other questioners spoke more to the political discourse of recent years, demonstrating the influence conservative talking points have had within the community. “Do you believe that Christians should be able to build as many churches as they wish and Jewish people should be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia and build as many synagogues as they wish?” asked one audience member suspiciously. “How do you plan to even begin on the oppression of your [Muslim] women?” asked another.

These provocative questions resulted only in calm answers. I’m so glad you asked that question, responded Imam Hendi. “I stand by you for a Christian to be able to openly and publically worship in churches in Saudi Arabia.” Imam Abdullah Antepli, his colleague on the panel, jumped in, adding that not allowing minorities to pray in Saudi Arabia has no grounding in Islamic practice and is in fact a violation of Islam.

Turning the onus back onto the questioner concerned about Muslim women’s rights, Imam Hendi added some provocation of his own. “I feel so angry when I see women oppressed in some Muslim countries. That happens not because of Islam, but rather despite Islam. Look at the history of the past 20 years in Muslim countries. Turkey had a female president, [as has] Bangladesh and Indonesia. Pakistan had a female prime minister. The American debate, unfortunately, is still if we can have a female president.”

For many others, the themes of unity and of opening oneself up to ones’ neighbors resonated deeply and without rancor. They made it clear that the debate over the mosque not only affected the Muslim community, but the whole community. It was their image and reputations on the line. Laura, a Murfreesboro resident, summed up many of her neighbors’ feelings during the question and answer session. The portrayal of her town in the media over the past year was not a fair representation of her and of the people of Murfreesboro, she said. “There are many of us who support the mosque,” she added. “A number of us have made some efforts in community organizing in order to come together.”

As people lingered in the lobby following the program, the mood was positive. The message the clergy had been trying to impart all evening seemed to have fallen on receptive ears. “I think it was one of the best debates we’ve had, and I’ve been to several of them,” said Jennifer Roberts, another Murfreesboro resident. “In the last year, [this] is all I want to talk about. I started a diversity group where I work and we’re trying to get people just to learn. You don’t have to become. You don’t have to switch. If you know, it’s not as scary.”

Having been awake since 5 AM and arriving back at their hotel in Nashville 18 hours later, it had been a long day for the group. Early the next morning, they would pack up the van again and leave for their next stop: Louisville, K.Y. The schedule was punishing, but they had a mission. “A lot of voices in the name of religion have been dividing us,” said Imam Antepli, who had gotten up at 3:30 AM to join the ride. “We are struggling to turn our differences into richness. It is the core mission of the clergy to make religion a strong force of peace and reconciliation.”

Gear Up for Some Good Ole Nashville Islamophobiapalooza: “Yeehaw!”

Tennessee is increasingly making a strong case as the capital of Islamophobia in the USA. From anti-Sharia’ legislation to the Murfreesboro Mosque controversy to organizations such as the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, Islamophobia is alive and well in the “volunteer state.”

So it may not be a big surprise that next month Nashville will be the locus for anti-Muslim hate and bigotry in the form of a conference titled: The Constitution or Sharia: A Freedom Conference.

The King and Queen of the Islamophobesphere, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller will be headlining the event, but they aren’t the only hatemongers that are expected to speak:

Nashville, Tennessee – November 11, 2011

The Constitution or Sharia: Preserving Freedom Conference, the first true national conference on Sharia and the Islamization of America sponsored by major freedom oriented organizations! Not just another educational conference. Speakers, such as Pamela Geller, Wafa Sultan and Mathew Staver are action oriented and you will finish the day with an understanding of how to fight the advance of Sharia Law in the United States.

Speaker and panel topics will include

Sharia and Jihad
The European Experience with Sharia
The Dehumanization and Diminishment of Women in the West Under Sharia
Religious Persecution Under Sharia
The Muslim Brotherhood In America
Sharia and Legal Action
Grassroots Organizing Against Sharia and Rabat (including Mega-Mosques)
Defending Liberty In Legislatures
Fighting Islamist Propaganda in the Media

Plus an action packed evening banquet!

See Tentative Schedule

SIGN UP NOW – Please go to event registration page

Confirmed Speakers include
  • Pamela Geller of Stop Islamization of America ** and Atlas Shrugs
  • Robert Spencer of Stop Islamization of America and Jihad Watch
  • J. Thomas Smith of U.S. Justice Foundation **
  • William J. Murray of Religious Freedom Coalition **
  • Andrew Miller and Lou Ann Zelenik of  Tennessee Freedom Coalition **
  • Frank Gaffney of Center for Security Policy **
  • Fred Grandy, former congressman and actor
  • David Frenchof  American Center for Law and Justice *
  • Andrea Lafferty of Traditional Values Coalition  *
  • Christopher Holton of Center for Security Policy
  • Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel
  • Dr. Mark Durie, Australia and Barrister Paul Diamond, United Kingdom
  • Wafa Sultan, Champion of women’s rights
  • Father Keith Roderick of The Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights
  • James Lafferty of Virginia Anti-Sharia Task force
  • Honorable Rick Womick
  • Kenneth Timmerman, author and journalist
  • Linda Brickman of Arizona Freedom Alliance
  • Rabbi Jonathan Hausman
  • Steve Gill, Syndicated talk show host and Michael DelGiorno, WTN talk show host

SIGN UP NOW – Please go to event registration page

Confirmed Speakers include
FREEDOM BANQUET: Separate evening event at the Hutton Hotel featuring special guest speakers including Hollywood actor and former congressman Fred Grandy and bestselling author Pamela Geller along with internationally known champion for women’s rights Wafa Sultan.

** Conference Sponsors / * Conference co-sponsors

SIGN UP NOW – Please go to event registration page

If there are any loonwatchers in and or around Tennessee they should consider going to this conference and perhaps speak with participants and speakers, much in the same manner Max Blumenthal does.

For more info on some of the characters and organizations that will be there, see:

Robert Spencer: Spencer Watch

Pamela Geller: The Looniest Blogger Ever

SIOA: Stop the Islamization of America is an anti-Muslim Hate Group

Andrew Miller and Lou Ann Zelenik of  Tennessee Freedom Coalition

Frank Gaffney of Center for Security Policy

Wafa Sultan: Calls For Nuclear Destruction of Muslims

James Lafferty of Virginia Anti-Sharia Task force

Rabbi Jonathan Hausman

LW Exclusive: Shocking Video of Geert Wilders Hate Speech on US Soil

Geert Wilders in Nashville at the Cornerstone Church

LW Exclusive: Shocking Video of Geert Wilders on US Soil

The Southern United States and the Midwest have been ravaged by violent forces of nature in the past few weeks; massive flooding has threatened to erase whole communities from Tennessee to Alabama, and over the past few days behemoth-like tornadoes, whipping in fury and frenzy swallowed and spit out whole towns.

The cataclysmic events of the Rapture predicted by Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping may not have come to pass but these tragedies have altered lives forever, and our thoughts and prayers should be with those affected. I encourage everyone to contribute in whatever way they can to relief and support efforts in those regions.

“Heartland USA” as this region is otherwise known is too often ignored, some forget that beyond the confines of our large urban cities there is a whole other America that is rural, conservative and vibrant.

It is here that another force has taken hold and is setting up the perfect storm of intolerance, bigotry, racism, xenophobia and hatred.

This force is a product of the wedding of Islamophobia across the Atlantic, between right-leaning populist politicians and Christian and Israeli/Jewish Zionists that has led to a feverous increase in anti-Democracy and anti-Muslim activity.

This is the real monster that should worry us, not some eight-headed dragon beast that might emerge from the sea and usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

Extremism on our Shores

On May 12, 2011 in Madison, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, Geert Wilders readily accepted an invitation from the Tennessee Freedom Coalition to speak at Cornerstone Church, a mega church with regular attendance exceeding 3,900 weekly. LW received exclusive video from Rob, a fan of LoonWatch who attended the event and taped the speeches of Wilders, Lou Ann Zelenik and Andy Miller. He was so upset by what he saw that he immediately sent us the footage he captured.

Wilders speech was a diatribe against Islam and Muslims in which all the familiar talking points were rehashed but with a little extra venom, undoubtedly playing to the sentiments of the crowd.

LW Exclusive: Shocking Video of Geert Wilders Hate Speech on US Soil Part 1:

Geert Wilders: “Its Islam Stupid (raucous applause). We must stop the Islamization of our countries, more Islam means less freedom”…”And now, now Europe is looking slowly but gradually like Arabia”…”It was the land of our fathers, it is our land now, it is our values, our values are based on Christianity, Judaism and Humanism and not Islam, it is that simple (applause)”…”and I have a message for all those people who want to rob us from our freedoms, and my message is stay in your own country (loud applause)”…”we are not going to allow Islam to steal our country from us (applause)”…”if Jerusalem falls, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam and Nashville will fall therefore my point is we all are Israel (applause)”…”the only place where Christians are safe in the Middle East is that beautiful country called Israel (loud applause)”…”Make no mistake, please make no mistake, Islam is also coming to America, in fact Islam already is in America. America is facing a stealth jihad, the Islamic attempt to introduce Sharia’ law bit by bit”…”what we need my friends, what we need to turn the tide is a spirit of resistance, what we need I repeat it again is a spirit of resistance”…”we must repeat it over and over again, especially to our children, our Western values and culture based on Christianity and Judaism is better and superior to the Islamic culture (applause), and leaders who talk about immigration without mentioning Islam are blind (applause)”…”we must stop the immigration from non-Western countries and we must forbid the construction of new hate palaces called mosques (applause)”…”the press calls it an Arab spring, I call it unfortunately an Arab winter (applause), Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are incompatible (applause)”…”the so called Prophet Muhammad was a terrorist worse than Bin Laden ever was (applause)”…”neutrality my friends, neutrality in the face of evil is evil itself (applause).”

Why is a mega-church, an institution that professes to follow the teachings of Christ hosting such a hate-mongerer in the heartland of the USA? What is the Tennessee Freedom Coalition and why is it paying an extremist foreign politician who undermines “freedom” to speak at a Church? What are the ramifications for the rest of the West, the USA in particular when such an extremist is given a platform to incite hate?

Cornerstone Church

This mega-church is a bit like a franchise corporation. It has two locations: one in Bowling Green, Kentucky and the other in Madison, Tennessee. It is led by Senior Pastor Maury Davis,

Pastor Maury Davis was arrested at age eighteen for the crime of first-degree murder. Following his trial and conviction, he served eight and one-half years in the Texas Department of Corrections. During his incarceration, Pastor Davis found his Savior in Jesus Christ and led a revival among his fellow prisoners.

Can anyone imagine what would happen if say Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf had a rap sheet similar to Pastor Davis? Pamela Geller would be doing back flips through Manhattan.

Aside from boasting about its large attendance, the Church also has a Starbucks-esque Coffee shop and other amenities for the Faith-full shopper. It successfully marries capitalism and religion and also adds an ultra-extra helping of Nationalism.

When nearing the Church, the first thing one notices is the strikingly gargantuan American flag in front of the Church:

Inside the Church the backdrop is red, white and blue and the colors surround a white modern looking Cross that reminds one more of the lapel pin worn by Captain Kirk on Star Trek than a cross. I guess they really want you to know they are patriots.

The Church’s philosophy is based on a literal belief in the Bible. They are certainly evangelical and reaffirm the theology of the “millennial reign of Christ,” i.e. the Rapture or the-floating-into-the-sky version of the End Times.

They believe that the Bible, “both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).”

Danios wrote in his “Understanding Jihad” series about how most American Christians believe the above, and it adds further credence to his recent article, “The ‘But that’s just the Old Testament’ Cop-out.”

Tennessee Freedom Coalition

The Tennessee Freedom Coalition, led by Lou Ann Zelenik and Andy Miller is a right-wing organization that can be considered a part of the Tea Party Movement, the base of the GOP. The addition of the TFC to the long list of GOP organizations can be considered one more dark stain in the history of the Tennessee GOP. It was not long ago that their members were making racist remarks about the president:

On top of the racism, homophobia isn’t far behind, the Republican governor of Tennessee has until June 1st to consider an “anti-Gay bill that would prohibit the passage of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.”

Tennessee also happens to be the state where we have seen a rise in hate against Muslims (in fact it is quickly becoming the center of anti-Muslim hate). Courts have been considering whether Islam is a religion, lawmakers are likely to pass a “Ban Sharia’ law” bill inspired by a documented racist and extremist Zionist named David Yerushalmi. It is scene to the Murfreesboro mosque struggle which made headlines this past summer. A year ago Pamela Geller was a headline speaker for the Tennessee Tea Party convention, talk about insane.

For its part the Tennessee Freedom Coalition was passing out this pamphlet at the Church:

How do you promote tolerance by “fighting” a religion? What they really mean to say in light of Wilders speech is, “Promote Religious Tolerance by Working to Stop the Growth of Islam,” which is like saying “promote tolerance by being intolerant.” Obviously this puts Muslims, you know, those who practice Islam in quite the bind.

LW Exclusive: Shocking Video of Geert Wilders Hate Speech on US Soil Part 2:

Conclusion

This is not the first time Geert Wilders has spoken at the pulpit, previously he spoke at Synagogues and at Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller’s SIOA 9/11 hate rally. However his presence amongst 3,000 admiring followers on US soil is not only reprehensible, it is a development that bodes ill for all of us.

It will only increase the radicalization of the anti-Muslim movement which seeks at its fundamental level to curtail freedom of religion and expression, first the rights of Muslims (soft target) and then anyone else they disagree with.

A word must also be said about Wilders obsessive citation of Israel. It is a country which he boasts about visiting over “forty times” and which he cites as a paragon of virtue, freedom, liberty, justice and light. He cites the security of Israel as one of the reasons that the West must fight Islam.

Lets forget the war crimes, human rights violations and apartheid policies in Israel for a second and really look at the hate that is emerging in its name. Individuals and organizations with deep connections to Israel, both network-wise and theologically are calling for the destruction of Islam which they regard as evil incarnate.

Aubrey Chernick (one of the leading funders of Islamophobia), Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, David Horowitz, Brigitte Gabriel, Allen West, the BNP, EDL, SIOE, SIOA, BPE, JDL, large numbers of Christian and Jewish Zionists and others believe that as long as you are fervently pro-Israel you can be as anti-Islam/Muslim as you want without suffering any consequences. Such a position at the end of the day only harms Jewish moral interests, and this much has been expressed by brave voices such as Not in Our Name, Jews without Borders, Muzzlewatch, Richard Silverstein, Max Blumenthal, our very own loonwatcher Gefilte, Glenn Greenwald and others.

The spectacle of a racist, anti-Muslim Dutch politician arriving on our shores to warn us about Islam is quite ironic, but what is most disturbing is the reception he received from a large audience of Americans. It may seem far-fetched now but one day Geert Wilders or someone like him (Allen West?) may move on from addressing thousands of Church goers to addressing Congress–the question is will he receive as many applauses as Benjamin Netanyahu?

Bill Would Make it Illegal to Be Muslim in Tennessee

Anti-Freedom Robert Spencer supports the Tennessee bill that would essentially make it illegal to be Muslim?:

Will it be illegal to be a Muslim in Tennessee soon?

American-Islamic group, others to ask TN lawmakers to drop anti-Shariah bill

(The Tennessean)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations will hold a media conference at noon Tuesday at the Tennessee Capitol, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Interfaith Alliance and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Representatives will ask lawmakers to drop an anti-Shariah bill that would criminalize the support of that Islamic code.

The bills supporters are calling it an anti-terrorist measure that protects the constitution, but Muslims say Shariah a set of rules for living, like the Catholic canon or Jewish religious law, not anything that conflicts with the state for U.S. constitutions.

“This clearly unconstitutional and un-American legislation would make it illegal to be a Muslim in the state of Tennessee,” CAIR staff attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a media release this morning.

“Consideration of this legislation, which completely disregards equality before the law, would send the unfortunate message that Tennessee is an intolerant state.”