For months, conservatives have led a hateful campaign against the expansion of a local Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This campaign has been endorsed by high-ranking Republicans such as the state’s Lt. Governor, Ron Ramsey, who last month, speaking to a group of Republicans in opposition to the mosque, wondered aloud whether Islam was a religion or a “cult” and fearmongered about the mosque trying to bring “Sharia law” to America. Earlier this year, Lou Ann Zelenik, a GOP congressional candidate in Tennessee, campaigned against the Murfreesboro mosque, arguing that it posed a threat to that state’s “moral and political foundation.”
Now, the local press reports that the police are investigating a case of arson that occurred at the construction site of the mosque Friday night:
Federal agents have been called in after someone poured flammable liquid on four pieces of construction equipment early today at the site of a planned new Islamic center and mosque just outside Murfreesboro. A CBS television affiliate is reporting that it is being investigated as arson. [...]
The center is planned offer a new place of prayer to replace the office suite that 250 local Muslim families have been using in a nearby office building.
Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF reports that police are investigating the arson as a hate crime. Members of the Muslim community are so paralyzed by fear, said spokeswoman Camie Ayash, that they are not joining the congregation at the local mosque during the current month of Ramadan. Watch it:
“Everyone in our community no longer feels safe,” Ayash said. “To set a fire that could have blown up equipment and, God forbid, spread and caused damage to the neighbors there. … We really feel like this is something that we and the neighbors don’t deserve.”
A local religious freedom group, Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom, plans to hold a “candlelight vigil in front of the Rutherford County Courthouse on Monday in response to the fire. “We simply cannot allow the actions of a few destructive individuals to go overlooked by Rutherford County residents,” said Claire Rogers, a spokesman for the group. “It’s truly a shame that we have reached this point, but it is up to us to ensure the intimidation goes no further.”
The incident at Murfreesboro should not be viewed in isolation. Among other recent Islamophobic hate incidents: a pipe bomb was set off at a Jacksonville mosque; a playground at an Arlington, Texas mosque was torched; a brick was thrown through a mosque window in Madera, California; a Nashville mosque was vandalized, among many others.