From The Associated Press comes shocking news: Apparently, not all Tennesseans are Islamophobes. You may recall CNN's recent 9/11 anniversary report that used the Volunteer State as a launching point for making the case that "rising anti-Islamic sentiment in America troubles Muslims." In case you missed it, I bashed that report here at GetReligion.
One of my complaints was the sensationalistic disregard for ordinary Muslim life in that Bible Belt state:
Through my work with The Christian Chronicle, I am aware of a minister in Nashville who has worked to increase communication and understanding among Christians and Muslims. I know that The Tennessean recently reported on an event at Lipscomb University, a Christian university, aimed at addressing Americans’ misconceptions about Islam. Yet CNN focuses only on the alleged radicals, not on those promoting respect and dialogue among Americans with different religious beliefs.
So imagine my surprise when I came across an AP story this week declaring that — believe it or not — the headline-grabbing uproar over a new mosque in Murfreesboro, south of Nashville, represented the exception, not the rule in Tennessee:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The two-year struggle between the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and a group of residents who have fought a losing battle to keep it from being built paints a distorted picture of Muslim life in Tennessee, where several other mosques have opened in recent years with little or no controversy.
Although there's likely no single cause for the conflict in Murfreesboro, the reaction of local leaders — both opponents of the mosque and those who stayed silent — may have helped extend and exacerbate it. Meanwhile, the experience of Muslims in Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville and elsewhere in Tennessee shows that what happened in Murfreesboro is not the inevitable consequence of being Muslim in the Bible Belt.
When the Memphis Islamic Center bought land across the street from Heartsong Church, the pastor put up a sign reading, "Welcome to the Neighborhood." Encouraged by the gesture, Islamic center leaders met with church leaders and soon formed friendships, mosque trustee Danish Siddiqui said.
In 2010, when mosque leaders realized their building would not be completed in time for the holy month of Ramadan, Heartsong stepped in and opened its sanctuary every night to its Muslim neighbors.
Quality journalism challenges misperceptions. This AP story does exactly that by noting that the Murfreesboro controversy "paints a distorted picture of Muslim life in Tennessee." Not only that, but it also quotes actual Muslims who live in Tennessee, something that CNN neglected to do.
I came across the story on the religion headlines page of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. However, I could not find the story at a few other sites I have bookmarked, such as Yahoo's religion page. In Googling for the story and searching for it in the LexisNexis archive, it appears to have run just on the Tennessee state wire and not on the national wire. That would mean that the AP did not deem it worthy of wider distribution, which, if true, is a shame.
The question of how much play the piece received aside, however, the writer Travis Loller and AP's Tennessee bureau deserve kudos for a nice piece of thoughtful reporting.
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