Confronting Anti-Muslim Terror with Solidarity in Tennessee

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee – The night of July 9th, 2017 the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM), a mosque where local Muslims congregate, was attacked. The ICM was vandalized with green spray paint which left expletives that read “Fuck Allah” in three places including on the exterior of the building and the basketball court, and the handles on the doors were draped with pork products, such as bacon.

Ignoring the intrinsic ridiculousness of this heavily symbolic act, the attack clearly unnerved the community at large. It is salient to note that in the days immediately following the vandalism at ICM, numerous cars in Murfreesboro were posted with flyers advertising Vanguard America, their website BLOODANDSOIL.ORG, and encouraging folks to “preserve your heritage” and “take up the fight.”

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Vanguard America is a white nationalist movement that unabashedly embraces both fascist and white supremacist ideology without the sticky sweet veneer of more publicly palatable “racial-realist” movements emerging from the Alt-Right. Thus, minority communities, such as those who are ICM patrons remain under threat from these forces who are clearly organizing locally.

Appeals to law enforcement to investigate or deter Vanguard and their ilk have proven fruitless. This is unsurprising to us as antifascists in a general sense, but additionally, a member of our affinity group observed a Rutherford County Sheriff’s SUV with a Three Percenter logo proudly emblazoned on the back of the vehicle. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that local law enforcement officers have zero interest in investigating encroaching white nationalist groups seeking to recruit adherents or intimidate minority communities.

Middle Tennessee is home to a sizeable population of refugees including Somali, Sudanese, and Kurdish immigrants fleeing war-torn homelands in search of safe havens to raise their families. The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program, in tandem with three non-profit organizations in the state of Tennessee, help refugees secure housing, employment, healthcare and ultimately citizenship. A vast majority of these refugees are settled within Davidson and Rutherford counties in Middle Tennessee.

As the Muslim population within Middle Tennessee has expanded, the need for a community center to serve them arose. In 2010, amid resistance from conservative and nationalist groups, plans to construct the ICM were drafted to fill this need. Equipped with spacious facilities for worship, congregation activities, playground, and basketball court, the ICM is a focal point for the lives of many devout Muslims in Middle Tennessee. Thus, the vandalism of this community center is an attack on the very fabric of this tight-knit community.

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This is not the first time Muslims and the ICM have come under fire in Tennessee. A protracted court battle was waged from the moment the mosque plans were laid, fueled by vicious and committed anti-Muslim agitators. When Rutherford County officials granted the construction permit for the ICM, hundreds of protesters marched at the behest of the mendacious televangelist Pat Robertson, who called the center a “mega-mosque” and cried foul that Muslims were laying siege to the hegemony of Murfreesboro.

Prior to completion of construction, the ICM site was also attacked by an arsonist who sought to destroy equipment and obfuscate the progress on the edifice. Sadly, the pattern of continual attack underscores the fact that the ICM has existed in a constant state of siege since its inception.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric that fuels these confrontations is pervasive throughout rural areas of Tennessee, a deeply red state. Class divisions are continually exploited by the GOP and poor and working-class Middle Tennesseans are fed a steady diet of Fox News and Infowars propaganda “revealing” the cultural ills of both Islam and refugees, who are portrayed as hapless parasites at best and violent terrorists at worst. Although conservatives and state lawmakers alike crow continuously about the “burden” that POC/Muslim refugees place on social welfare programs, statistics reveal that refugees contributed twice as much in tax revenues as they have consumed in State-financed social services in the past twenty years in Tennessee. Yet the anti-immigrant sentiment is continually nurtured.

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After the vandalism of the ICM was reported, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Nashville promoted a night of Solidarity a the ICM on July 11th, 2017. Numerous groups and individuals attended the event, giving rise to a sizeable crowd totaling more than 500 folks, including representatives from Veterans for Peace, Redneck Revolt, Anonymous Nashville (and surrounding areas), Nashville Antifascist Action (AFA), as well as various churches, liberal groups, and progressive organizations. The local media from Channel 5 News interviewed parishioners, patrons, and community organizers alike.

Nashville AFA attended in solidarity with ICM, offering support and distributing literature in both English and Arabic, providing guidance for how to respond to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who have been terrorizing the Kurdish community with targeted deportations while posing as local law enforcement.

Interestingly, the neoliberal mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry has chastised ICE for these hostile and misleading tactics, which she characterizes as serving to “erode the trust citizens have in local law enforcement.” Sadly, Mayor Barry misses the point. The actions of ICE as well as the actions of those individuals who defaced the ICM, and those of the nationalist neckbeards (Threepers, Vanguard, and fascists alike) peddling their tired tropes reveal a deeper truth; that we must trust only in our collective communities for protection and solidarity.

We cannot rely on the State; the cavalry is not coming to save us. It is important that we form the bonds of solidarity within our communities, especially those under threat of attack as the Muslims, Kurds, people of color are now, more than ever. As the night began to creep in, members of our collective asked members of the ICM what we could do to help them during this tumultuous time, and the resounding answer was “show up, and support us.” Let’s honor that request, comrades, and live our principles of mutual aid and solidarity.

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For more information on our affinity group, check out our Facebook page.