More On Murfreesboro Mosque

TPM Reader AB checks in from Murfreesboro:

I’ve appreciated your coverage of the putative “controversy” enveloping the proposed Islamic center here in Murfreesboro, and I’d like to point out a couple of details that might enhance your coverage.

One aspect lost in national media coverage is the fact that nearby Nashville is home to a substantial Kurdish community; indeed, we in the region believe it is the largest Kurdish population in the United States.

Kurds began establishing a visible community in the 1980s and it continues to grow and expand in both Nashville and suburban communities like Murfreesboro. A good many people who would–excuse, who will–use the new center are pretty thoroughly Amercanized. They commute to Nashville. They own local businesses. They pay taxes. Their kids attend public schools. And a lot of those eventually attend the state university in Murfreesboro. That said, the proposed center is not a new institution; rather, the local Muslim community has outgrown the current center and simply seeks to build a new facility that’s commensurate with growth.

If you glanced at local media reports last week, you may have seen reports on the anti-Islamic center march on the Rutherford County Courthouse in downtown Murfreesboro. My son was there. He put the number of anti-center marchers at no more than 300. He said there were substantially more, if not twice as many, counter-demonstrators showing support for the proposed center. I’ll note in passing that there’s a Facebook page for supporters of the center. Over 1,700 people have joined that page (and more are joining, too, as time goes by). Alas, some of the local media outlets seem to have practiced a sort of numeric equivalent of he-said/he-said journalism in estimating crowd sizes: I heard two TV reports assert that there were 400 protesters and 400 supporters.

Now the person who instigated this mess, Lou Ann Zelenik, seems to be in a neck-and-neck GOP primary with State Senator Jim Tracy and, as you’ve rightly pointed out, her targeting the proposed center is a gambit to differentiate herself from a crowded primary field. I think it’s fair to say Zelenik is a teabagger; Tracy has a reputation as a far more moderate Republican. The primary, then, might be better seen as yet another GOP identity struggle. I won’t hazard a guess as to how that will turn out. On the one hand, there certainly are a lot of right-wing yahoos in Murfreesboro and elsewhere in the district. On the other hand, there’s a 25,000-student state university, a sector of the local population that’s educated and affluent, and there’s a lot of people who are not native Tennesseans and who’ve moved here from elsewhere in the country.

All in all, it will be interesting to see who fills Bart Gordon’s seat in the 6th district.