The proposed construction of a Muslim community center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has become a hot issue in the Republican primary for the open Dem-held TN-06 district. One candidate, Lou Ann Zelenik, has been accusing her rivals of not taking a strong enough stand against it — and her campaign is also warning against the possibility of Sharia law being instituted in Tennessee.
As the Daily News Journal reports, Zelenik joined a march last week to oppose construction of the center. During the march, she accused her two main opponents, state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy, of not doing anything to stop it.
In an interview with TPMDC, Zelenik’s campaign manager Jay Heine summed up the problem: “Here’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing it as — this isn’t a mosque. They’re building an Islamic center to teach Sharia law. That is what we stand in opposition to. And this is one of the largest Islamic centers in the country, at 53,000 square feet on 15 acres.”
Black’s campaign has responded that she has in fact spoken on the subject, the Daily News Journal notes. They pointed out to the paper that Black had released this balanced statement in late June: “I will always follow the wisdom of our forefathers as laid down in the Constitution, and that means I believe that all Americans must be free to practice their faith as long it does not threaten other Americans or our national security. I’m very concerned that violent jihadism is becoming the norm, not the exception in too much of Islam today, and American communities have a right to be vigilant in ensuring that Islamic institutions in this country do not aid the jihadist viewpoint.”
I asked Heine for comment on Black’s statement. “We agree with that statement. We believe that we should have the freedom of religion, and we support that completely,” said Heine. “This isn’t about building a mosque. This is about the establishment of Sharia law over the Constitution. And we’re taking a very strong stance on that, we’re opposed to the establishment of Sharia law in our state. We’re going to give the people of Murfreesboro a forum to air their voice about the Islamic center that is being constructed.”
“There’s already a mosque in Murfreesboro, we have no opposition to that,” Heine added. “The Sharia law business is where we do have a very severe concern on — where women are treated as half the worth of a man, where young women are sent off to wherever, like Pakistan, for arranged marriages. We’re opposed to the honor killings. That’s the stuff we need to take a stand on. We need to take a stand on female mutilation, where even though it’s illegal in the United States, the Sharia law advocates have found a way around where it’s quote ‘less cruel.’ And it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, this is stuff we need to take a stand on.”
Does the Zelenik campaign have any evidence, I asked, that the Muslim community center in question is a front for Sharia law and the sort of activities mentioned above? “You know, I don’t have any proof of it,” said Heine. “But the concern is we seen it happening in other parts of the nation. And we see honor killings that have happened in Houston, Texas, we see what’s happened in Dearborn, Michigan, we see it in other places. And the question is, does the community want Sharia law to be taught in their area where these things could potentially happen, too? And that’s the question.”
Zelenick has also been running this online fundraising ad, for which Heine confirmed the authenticity:
Zelenik previously released a strongly worded public statement in late June. “Let there be no mistake, Lou Ann stands with everyone who is opposed to the idea of an Islamic training center being built in our community,” the statement said, also adding: “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”
I asked Heine about this skeptical objection that some people might have: Is Zelenik simply drumming up fear of a religious minority in order to get elected? “You know, I don’t think that at all,” said Heine. “In fact, we never intended this to even be an issue in the campaign. Our biggest issue that we’ve been focused on is government spending and out of control government. This has become a larger issue simply because there is so much local concern about this.”
The Republican primary will be held on August 5.