Religious freedom? Right-wing's anti-Muslim assault echoed in nationwide mosque protests

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Despite the right-wing media's claim that their opposition to Park51 -- the planned Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan -- is not about restricting religious freedom, protests have sprung up nationwide in opposition to local mosques and Islamic community centers in the wake of the manufactured controversy. These protests follow the right-wing's relentless assault on not just Park51, but Islam in general.

Right-wing media repeatedly claim that Park51 protests not about restricting religious freedom

Numerous conservative media figures have claimed opponents of the project have not talked about restricting Muslim's religious freedom, such as Fox News' Glenn Beck, Charles Krauthammer, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Steve Hayes, and Peter Johnson Jr., as well as National Review Online, blogger Pam Geller, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

However, in wake of Park51 controversy, protests of local mosques have occurred nationwide

Staten Island, NY: "Muslim groups have encountered unexpectedly intense opposition to their plans for opening mosques in Lower Manhattan, in Brooklyn and most recently in an empty convent on Staten Island." A June 10 New York Times article reported on opposition to a proposed mosque in Staten Island, New York that "have focused overwhelmingly on more intangible and volatile issues: fear of terrorism, distrust of Islam and a linkage of the two in opponents' minds." From the New York Times article:

Some opponents have cited traffic and parking concerns. But the objections have focused overwhelmingly on more intangible and volatile issues: fear of terrorism, distrust of Islam and a linkage of the two in opponents' minds.

''Wouldn't you agree that every terrorist, past and present, has come out of a mosque?'' asked one woman who stood up Wednesday night during a civic association meeting on Staten Island to address representatives of a group that wants to convert a Roman Catholic convent into a mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood.

''No,'' began Ayman Hammous, president of the Staten Island branch of the group, the Muslim American Society -- though the rest of his answer was drowned out by catcalls and boos from among the 400 people who packed the gymnasium of a community center.

[...]

''We are newcomers, and newcomers in America have always had to prove their loyalty,'' said Mahdi Bray, the society's executive director. ''It's an old story. You have to have thick skin.''

That admonition was tested on Wednesday, as irate residents took turns at the microphone, demanding answers from the three Muslim men who had accepted the get-acquainted invitation of the civic association.

''I was on the phone this morning with the F.B.I., and all I want to know from you is why MAS is on the terrorist watch list,'' said Joan Moriello, using the acronym for the Muslim American Society. Her question produced a loud, angry noise from the audience.

Mr. Hammous, a physical therapist who lives on Staten Island, exchanged a puzzled look with two other Muslim men who had joined him on the podium, both officers of the society's Brooklyn branch, which operates a mosque in Bensonhurst and faces opposition to opening another in Sheepshead Bay.

''Your information is incorrect, madam,'' he replied. ''We are not on any watch list.'' The other men, Mohamed Sadeia and Abdel Hafid Djamil, shook their heads in agreement.

The State Department maintains a terrorist watch list for foreign organizations, and the Justice Department has identified domestic groups it considers unindicted co-conspirators in various terror-related prosecutions. The American Muslim Society is on neither of those lists.

Murfreesboro, TN: Mosque opponents are afraid the mosque "will be turned into a terrorist training ground." An August 8 AP article reported on the protests surrounding a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee by noting that "opponents of a new Islamic center say they believe the mosque will be more than a place of prayer. They are afraid the 15-acre site that was once farmland will be turned into a terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the U.S. government." From the AP:

In the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, opponents of a new Islamic center say they believe the mosque will be more than a place of prayer. They are afraid the 15-acre site that was once farmland will be turned into a terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

"They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group," said Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators recently who wore "Vote for Jesus" T-shirts and carried signs that said: "No Sharia law for USA!," referring to the Islamic code of law. Others took their opposition further, spray painting the sign announcing the "Future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro" and tearing it up.

Temecula, CA: "Foes of proposed mosques have deployed dogs to intimidate Muslims holding prayer services and spray painted 'Not Welcome' on a construction sign." The AP also reported, "In Temecula, Calif., opponents brought dogs to protest a proposed 25,000-square-foot mosque that would sit on four acres next to a Baptist church. Opponents worry it will turn the town into haven for Islamic extremists, but mosque leaders say they are peaceful and just need more room to serve members." An August 19 Christian Science Monitor article further reported:

Protesters with bullhorns have shown up during afternoon prayers at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in California.

The Muslim group there hopes to erect a 24,000 square foot mosque and Islamic center on some vacant land it owns.

The protesters were mainly concerned about Islam, carrying such signs as "No Allah Law Here."

The mosque has also been criticized by Bill Rench, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, which would be the mosque's neighbor. Mr. Rench has told the Monitor in the past, "We don't want to do anything that encourages Islam."

But the imam of the mosque, who has the support of a local interfaith council, has tried to mend fences with Rench, offering to explain Islam. "I would like to have a meeting with the pastor," Imam Mahmoud Harmoush told the Monitor earlier.

So far, mosque officials say that effort has not been successful.

Officials hope to complete the mosque at the end of next year.

Florence, KY: "Stop the Mosque," and "the takeover of our country." The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) reported in an August 16 article that a planned mosque in Florence, Kentucky, has drawn protests. From the article:

Florence city officials say they have gotten several calls about the proposed worship center and a flier is being distributed in the city's neighborhoods.

There is also a website run by a Boone County resident that posts anti-Islamic messages and encourages people to "Stop the Mosque."

[...]

"Cayton Road is in your neighborhood," the flier states. "Everyone needs to contact Florence City Council to have this stopped. Americans need to stop the takeover of our country."

Protests follow relentless right-wing attacks on Park 51 and Islam

Gingrich compares Islamic center to Nazis erecting sign near Holocaust museum, Japanese site near Pearl Harbor. On the August 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Newt Gingrich said, "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Nugent: "The mosque will attract extremists and radicals who will try to harm America." In an August 19 Washington Times op-ed attacking Park51, Ted Nugent wrote that "[t]he mosque will attract extremists and radicals who will try to harm America." Nugent repeatedly referred to Islam as a "voodoo religion" and concluded, "If additional American blood is spilled in the Big Apple, the politicians who supported this mosque will be as guilty as the Muslim voodoo kooks who love death and destruction in the name of Allah."

Cal Thomas repeatedly suggests Park51 would be a terrorist front. In an August 3 column, conservative commentator Cal Thomas wrote: "Ask yourself: if you wanted to infiltrate a country, wouldn't a grand strategy be to rapidly build mosques from Ground Zero in New York, to Temecula, Calif., and establish beachheads so fanatics could plan and advance their strategies under the cover of religious freedom and that great American virtue known as 'tolerance,' which is being used against us?" In a July 21 post on The Washington Post's On Faith blog, Thomas wrote:

A mosque near Ground Zero is not about tolerance, but triumphalism. It isn't about honoring the dead, but celebrating their deaths.

[...]

Don't we know why our enemies desire a beachhead in America? They wish to launch new terror attacks and forcibly convert Americans to their way of thinking and believing. What will we gain by allowing this to happen?

Morris: Park 51 will be used to "train and recruit Sharia law advocates who become terrorists." On the August 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dick Morris cited a study that he claimed said "80 percent of the mosques...teach Sharia law as the main event." Morris later claimed that Park 51 will be used to "study and promote and train and recruit Sharia law advocates, which, who become terrorists."

Morris: "[T]hese Sharia mosques...have become the command center for terrorists" and Park51 "would be too." On the August 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, during a discussion of Park51, Morris claimed "these Sharia mosques ... have become the command centers for terrorists," adding, "so this one would be, too."

Bolling: Park51 "may be a meeting place for some of the scariest minds -- some of the biggest terrorist minds." On the August 19 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Eric Bolling claimed that Park51 "may be a meeting place for some of the scariest minds -- some of the biggest terrorist minds."

Kilmeade: "The next Hamburg cell could be right downtown." During the discussion with Bolling on the August 19 Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said of Park51, "The next Hamburg cell could be right downtown." A terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, whose members would later become the 9-11 hijackers, is believed to be the origin of the 9-11 plot.

Limbaugh suggests Park51 would be a "recruiting tool for domestic extremists." On the August 3 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated that if the Guantanamo Bay detention center "is a recruiting tool for foreign extremists, what about a World Trade Center mosque being a recruiting tool for domestic extremists?"

Fox guest suggests Islamic cultural center is intended to "trumpet" Muslim conquest. On the August 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, guest Jeanine Pirro--former Republican candidate for New York state Attorney General--said, "I think the whole idea of the mosque is outrageous, and if you're a student of history, you know that mosques are often built to trumpet their victories."

Franklin Graham: "True Islam" can't be practiced in U.S. because "you cannot beat your wife, you cannot do honor killings." On the August 19 broadcast of CNN's John King USA, Franklin Graham repeated his frequent attacks on Islam, claiming that "remember true Islam cannot be practiced here in this country. You cannot beat your wife. You cannot do honor killing if you think your daughter has been misbehaved. You cannot kill her. And they're protected by the laws of this country. We're not under Sharia law. We're under the Constitution of the United States. And so we're protected."

Beck asks, "[A]fter you've killed 3,000 people, you're going to now build your mosque"? On his August 18 radio show, Glenn Beck said of Park51, "You look for things that are uniting, I'm sorry, but the Cordoba Project is not uniting. If you wanted to unite people, you don't spit in their face. You don't spit in their face. On the tenth anniversary, after you've killed 3,000 people, you're going to now build your mosque on there, really?" Beck has repeatedly falsely claimed that Park51 was scheduled to open on September 11, 2011. He has also referred to the Islamic center as "the 9-11 mosque," and has wondered if it is "a possibility" that Park51's location is about "inoculation."

Limbaugh calls Islamic center "a victory monument at Ground Zero." On August 17, Limbaugh called Park51 "a victory monument at Ground Zero, which is what this mosque is." He added: "The real question is why do people who don't like this country want that mosque there? What is so important about having it there?"

Palin calls Park 51 a "stab in the heart" for Americans and a "slap" to 9/11 victims. During the August 16 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin claimed that it was "an insensitive move on the part of those Muslims who want to build that mosque in this location. It feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11." Palin later said, "[T]his is a slap to those innocent victims who were murdered that day on 9/11."

Hoft dubs Park 51 the "Ground Zero Victory Mosque."
In an August 16 Gateway Pundit post, Jim Hoft touted Fox News' Bill O'Reilly's criticism of Obama's comments about Park 51 and described the Islamic community center as the "Ground Zero Victory Mosque."

Washington Times: "If the mosque is constructed, the terrorists win." In an August 19 editorial, The Washington Times stated of the planned Islamic community center in New York City: "The Ground Zero Mosque is not healing a rift but deepening a wound. If the mosque is constructed, the terrorists win."

Beck on Park51: "Why don't we build it on the graves of people that lost their lives?" On his August 16 radio show, Beck asked, "Why don't we build it on the graves of people that lost their lives?" Beck added, "Where are the American Muslims" speaking out against the Islamic community center?"

BigPeace.com: Violence against women is "taking place almost exclusively from within Islamic communities." An August 9 post on Andrew Brietbart's BigPeace.com claims that "previously unimagined assaults on women and girls are taking place almost exclusively from within Islamic communities." In fact, the problem of violence against women is widespread and not exclusive to any one community.

Geller absurdly compared NYC mosque to building a KKK "shrine" near black Alabama church. On the August 11 edition of Fox & Friends, conservative blogger Pam Geller absurdly compared building an Islamic cultural center two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York to building a Ku Klux Klan "shrine" near a black church in Alabama.

Liddy on NASA effort for Muslims to "feel better about themselves": "They feel any better, they'll be killing us all." On his August 6 radio show, G. Gordon Liddy discussed reports of NASA outreach efforts to the "Muslim world," which Liddy described as NASA's efforts to make Muslims "feel better about themselves." Liddy added, "If they feel any better, they'll be killing us all."

Liddy: Muslims "certainly are adept at slaughter." On his June 21 radio show, Liddy discussed biblical passages with a guest, who claimed that "the Muslims are fighting the Jews. The Muslims are fighting the Christians. The Muslims are fighting the Hindus. The Muslims are fighting the Buddhists. They're slaughtering the blacks, even the Muslim blacks in Africa, in Darfur. And then, the Muslims go ahead a slaughter each other in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, wherever you want." Liddy replied, "Well, yeah, they certainly are adept at slaughter, I have to give you that."

Washington Times declares Muslims to be a "radical group." A July 15 Washington Times editorial titled "Obama's homosexual-Muslim conflict" called Muslims and homosexuals "radical groups" and claimed the Obama administration "might have to decide" which group "it's most important to pander [to]: homosexuals or Muslims."

Texas right-wing radio host on Park51: "I hope somebody blows it up." While discussing Park51 on his May 26 radio show, as Think Progress reported, right-wing Houston radio host Michael Berry said, "I'll tell you this: If you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up."

Pam Geller launches "Leaving Islam" campaign, attacks Park51 as "stab[bing] Americans in the eye." On May 27, Fox & Friends hosted Geller to discuss her "Leaving Islam" campaign, in which she targets people who want to "leave Islam" because it is a "danger" for them to do so. Geller denied that she was encouraging people to "leave Islam." She also touted her "effort" to protest Park51 and wondered why "they would want to stab Americans in the eye" by building the center near the site of the World Trade Center.

Kilmeade asks if the "Islamic community" is "gloating" by building Park 51 near Ground Zero. On May 26, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "Six hundred feet from World Tower 1, World Trade Center 1 stood, is this gloating on the part of the Islamic community?" Guest Andrew McCarthy said that this was "Islamist supremacism" and that "well-meaning people would know that this is an affront to common sense." Kilmeade had previously described the Islamic center plans as "an outrage" and accused Muslims of "taunting" 9/11 victims.

Fox & Friends hosts Graham, who calls Muslims "enslaved by Islam" and claims with Christianity, "they don't have to die in a car bomb." On the April 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News hosted evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham to discuss reports that the Army is considering rescinding its invitation for Graham to appear at the Pentagon on the National Day of Prayer due to objections to his past description of Islam as a "wicked" and "evil" religion. During the segment, Graham preached that Muslims should convert to Christianity and said that they should know that "they don't have to die in a car bomb, they don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God, but it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone." Graham also called Muslims "enslaved by Islam." Later in the show, Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. defended Graham, offering many reasons why Graham's past statements about Islam should be forgiven, including that "[a]fter 9-11, a lot of folks were making those statements." Johnson concluded: "It doesn't make it right, it doesn't make it wrong. He is a human. He may have made a mistake, but do we condemn him now because he's a Christian preacher?"

Fox hosted Michael Graham, who previously called Islam "a terrorist organization," to attack Army for rescinding Graham's National Prayer day invite. For comment on Rev. Franklin Graham and the controversy over his attack on Islam, America's Newsroom hosted Michael Graham, despite the fact that he was reportedly fired by WMAL-AM "after he refused to soften his description of Islam as 'a terrorist organization' on the air." The Washington Post reported on August 23, 2005:

According to WMAL, Graham said "Islam is a terrorist organization" 23 times on his July 25 program. On the same show, he also said repeatedly that "moderate Muslims are those who only want to kill Jews" and that "the problem is not extremism. The problem is Islam."

Of Franklin Graham, Michael Graham said: "If I were looking for problems with riled up Muslims at the Pentagon, I wouldn't be worried about Franklin Graham. I'd be worried about the Army sergeant -- captain, excuse me, who was communicating with an Al Qaeda terrorist by email who was telling his colleagues at the Army Medical Corps he wanted to cut off their heads and pour hot oil down their throats before ... he shot up people at Fort Hood," which co-host Martha MacCallum called a "good point."

Fox News' Crowder: "The truth is that Muslims tend to be more violent than Christians." In discussing the Army's decision to rescind Rev. Franklin Graham's invitation to speak on the National Day of Prayer on the April 23 broadcast of Hannity, Fox News contributor Steven Crowder declared, "The truth is that Muslims tend to be more violent than Christians."

Fox & Friends baselessly suggested Muslim scholars are "terrorists." On March 30, Fox & Friends baselessly suggested that Muslim scholars Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib -- who were both denied entry into the United States under the Bush administration but had the ban lifted by the Obama administration -- are "terrorists." However, both have denied engaging in terrorist activity, neither was ever charged with any crime, and media accounts have noted that they "were denied admittance after making statements counter to U.S. foreign policy." Co-host Steve Doocy said: "President Bush banned these two guys from the United States because of alleged ties to terror, but Hillary Clinton invited them back and now they're speaking to college kids about their life story. What's that about?" An on-screen graphic included the text, "Terrorist to Lecture?"

Coulter: "If all Muslims would boycott airlines, we could dispense with airport security all together." On the March 25 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Ann Coulter claimed that "if all Muslims would boycott airlines, we could dispense with airport security." Coulter defended her position on racial profiling by calling it "insane, when you have limited resources, to be searching every single person at airport security."

Quinn: The "truth" about Islam is that it is filled with "duplicitious and violent men" and those who want to "wir[e] Down syndrome children with explosives." On his March 4 radio show, Jim Quinn declared that "the truth about Islam is the opposite of what you're being told. The fact is that the Muslim extremist world of the 21st century is a nasty, grubby, illiterate, but tech-savvy, hate-filled world of duplicitous and violent men, whose minds live in a 12th century melange of hatred of the infidel, which, of course, is just about everybody else in the world except them." He added: "Then, there are young men who have had every advantage that the West gives its youth who would prefer to have their future contained wiring Down syndrome children with explosives so that they can kill as many innocent Westerners as possible."

Kilmeade: Muslims "have to understand" being profiled because of "the war that was declared on us." On the November 10, 2009, edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade told Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham: "You get a chance to talk to a lot of Islamic experts, Muslim experts, and people who understand the Quran, and I asked him one time, off camera, I said, 'How do you feel about the extra scrutiny, clearly, you're getting at the airports?' And he said, 'I'm all for it, because I want to get home to my family, too.' And that's really got to be the attitude. So, if you're Islamic, or you're Muslim and you're in the military, you have to understand ... and that's just the fact right now in the war that was declared on us."

Peters: "I am sick of hearing that Islam is a religion of peace. ... I haven't seen a lot of Southern Baptist suicide bombers." On the September 10, 2009, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly claimed that "the elite liberal media in America does not want to continue to whip up anti-Islamic fascism sentiment." Fox News contributor Ralph Peters responded: "No, they'd rather whip up anti-Israeli sentiment." Peters continued: "I am sick of hearing that Islam is a religion of peace. Well, if Islam is a religion of peace, fine, start acting peaceful. But I haven't seen a lot of Southern Baptist suicide bombers lately, and I will not stand for moral relativism. 9-11 wasn't our fault; it was fanatics who attacked our country because they hate what we stand for."

McInerney: "If you are an 18- to 28-year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip-searched." On the January 2, 2009, edition of America's News HQ, Fox News contributor Lt. Gen. (ret.) Tom McInerney said that "we have to use profiling. And I mean be very serious and harsh about the profiling. If you are an 18- to 28-year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip-searched. And if we don't do that, there's a very high probability we're going to lose an airliner." After host Julie Banderas noted that profiling would be "essentially singling out people because of a religious group," McInerney responded, "If that age group doesn't like it, then what are they doing to stop this jihad against the West?"

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