Sunday, November 21, 2010


Yesterday's visit to Watching America was a rather strange one. There were a number of articles that struck me because, while they used America as a backdrop, the articles themselves were directed towards the issues of their respective countries. That backdrop wasn't a very flattering one. If you don't visit this valuable site often, this would be a good time to do so.

That said, the article I finally settled on came from the Economist. It had to do with a trial that took place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. First, here's the background to the story.

In January “NOT WELCOME” was spray-painted on a sign placed on the site announcing it as the future home of the Islamic Centre of Murfreesboro. The sign was vandalised again in June, one week after a contentious county commission hearing at which a local pastor declared, “We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.” The same month a Republican candidate for Congress from Murfreesboro declared herself “opposed to the idea of an Islamic training centre being built in our community”. In August construction equipment at the site was set alight.

When the righteous right wing terrorists didn't succeed in their intimidation tactics, they ponied up for a civil lawsuit, and here's where it gets good:

...The defence called a single witness, who testified that the county’s planning commission followed proper procedure; the plaintiffs called at least 17, including Frank Gaffney, who runs a think-tank in Washington, DC, and speaks often about the dangers of sharia (for whatever that is worth: on the stand he admitted, “I am not an expert on sharia, but I have talked a lot about it as a threat”). Their attorney’s questioning often focused not on the details of open-meetings laws but on the incompatibility of sharia and American law, on whether Islam is a religion (the federal government filed a brief saying that it is) and on whether advocating sharia law ought to be protected by the first amendment.

Like the author of the article, I am somewhat puzzled by the willingness of the hearing officer in letting that "expert" testimony in, but at least he reached the proper conclusion. He threw the case out.

Now two things about this article struck me. The first, of course, is the sheer meanness of Islamaphobes, a meanness which is not unlike that of their nasty cousins, the racists. One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs declared that the case would go all the way up to the Supreme Court. Gasp! I wonder who will fund that little exercise.

The second thing which struck me was that it was so reminiscent of the huge coverage given by the US press this past summer over the plans to build an Islamic center a few blocks from "Ground Zero." Not a day went by without coverage of the rhetoric roiling about the issue. In fact, the same kind of coverage was given to groups protesting such centers or mosques in various small towns around the nation, always providing a "balanced" version of the facts. Yet, as far as I can tell, there was little mention of the Murfreesboro case in any of the major news outlets the past three weeks.

I did a little Google check on the coverage of the New York center and found that stories started really showing up in June, peaked in August, leveled off in September, and then, by the end of that month, stopped entirely. There are probably several explanations for that. The most obvious is that the over coverage was getting tedious and not grabbing people as much. The second is that the new issue was the imagined threat of Sharia law replacing the US Constitution, which is still getting ink and electrons and was the alleged central issue in the Murfreesboro case.

Probably the main reason, however, is that the midterm elections loomed. There were plenty of stories to cover, several of which contained the left-over stench from the New York center as rightist candidates continued to mouth outrage over the very existence of Muslims, wherever they might be located. In other words, the damage had been done.

I don't know that the timing and over-reporting was intentional on the part of the press, but it certainly had the same effect as if it had been. It now appears that the kind of horrid behavior displayed in the Murfreesboro case is no longer news. It's the norm, and there's nothing newsworthy in the norm.

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