Mosque burning: Orlando Sentinel writes a sensitive follow-up, with some flaws

Shunning clichés. Following up a tragedy. Getting the human angle. The Orlando Sentinel's story on the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which was set on fire the previous weekend, has several strengths. And a few flaws.

The sensitive piece shuns the clichés that infect many such follow-ups on terrorism. The people talk like people, not talking-head spokespersons. It's also honest about the terrorist acts that allow some people to think they have a right to lash out at all Muslims.

On the other hand, the paper talks about supportive neighbors without talking to them. And I raised an eyebrow when I realized the lede came from a Friday service before the fire:

FORT PIERCE -- As ceiling fans churned muggy August air through the mosque where Pulse shooter Omar Mateen once touched his forehead to the carpet in prayer, assistant imam Adel Nefzi preached that a sincere follower of God harms none.
He thundered that no man should fear the hand or tongue of a true Muslim.
It had been two months since Mateen walked into an Orlando nightclub and opened fire on a roomful of dancers, killing 49. And before the prayer service began and worshippers were still trickling into the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, Nefzi pondered the weighty task ahead of him.
"It's a heavy responsibility to speak about religion," said Nefzi, 53. "You are always afraid that people, they did not understand the right message."

It's much later that the Sentinel divulges the service took place last month -- after Mateen attacked the Pulse nightclub in June, but before the fire on the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

To me, it looks like the writer simply wrote from unused notes, then updated the story. 

Not that the work isn’t worthwhile. Look again at the telling details and the introspective quote in that block quote. The paper also notes how the mosque has posted photos of the fire damage, and that it has launched a fund drive to cover the expected $100,000 repair job. It even reveals that the building is a familiar structure in Fort Pierce, having once housed a Presbyterian church.

I respect how the Sentinel not only reports that Mateen attended the Islamic Center, but brings up a previous case as well:

However, this isn't the first time mosque regulars have felt suspicion hover over their congregation. Another former attendee, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, became known as the first American suicide bomber in Syria after driving a truck packed with explosives into a restaurant in 2014.
Those who pray at the mosque say they, like anyone, were appalled that Abusalha, 22, and Mateen, 29, had ties to their community.
"I can understand people's frustration with two people coming out of this area having committed such horrendous acts," Port St. Lucie entrepreneur Mohammad Malik said. "The thing is that these two radicalized individually, and it wasn't done through the mosque."

So the paper doesn't cover up the previous case, and it allows a local Muslim to defend the mosque. And it's good to get it from a "regular" Muslim, not an imam or an officer of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (although one is quoted elsewhere). 

That said, it would have been worthwhile to ask Malik how he knew Abusalha had been radicalized individually. Did he know the man? Was it because Malik hadn't heard any teachings at the mosque condoning terrorism? Something else?

Another question: The Sentinel twice says the surrounding community has shown support for the Islamic Center. Where are the details? 

The story quotes member Sarah Zaidi:

Since fire ravaged the place she once worshipped, Zaidi, 28, has been defending the mosque on social media and rallying people to donate. Though hate grabs headlines, there has also been an outpouring of goodwill from both Muslims and non-Muslims, she said.
"We're going to stand as one," she said. "The point is that we have freedom of religion, and we will keep rebuilding as much as we have to, because that's our right."

The article also points out a smoke-damaged bulletin board "where the imam had pinned notes of support and solidarity sent to the mosque since the Pulse shooting." What did they say? Can the writers be tracked down? How about asking Adel Nefzi to read some of the names on the supportive notes?

The Sentinel writer could have gotten one source just by watching the video by TV station WPBF, as you did if you clicked the thumb above. The video has a neighbor, Jean Cranshaw, saying on camera: "These are people. They're not our enemies. They're our neighbors and our friends and our co-workers."

Updates, as I say, are a great idea. Too often, mainstream media dash from crisis to crisis, without telling us how the crises are resolved. But it's always better to quote people directly than to have someone else quote them. And if you're going to set a scene in a follow-up, it's kind of vital that the scene takes place after the event.

Please respect our Commenting Policy