What do the kind people of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a city of 126,000 about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, think about Muslims?
Read all 1,800-plus words of today's Washington Post takeout on the "midsize college town" (aka the sixth-largest city in Tennessee), and the difficulty in making broad generalizations about the community's attitudes and opinions becomes clear.
However, nuance apparently does not buy exclusive real estate (read: Page 1) in the dead-tree edition of one of America's elite newspapers.
What does? Try the possibility of Islamophobia and intolerance in the "buckle on the Bible Belt." That'll get a story on the front page, even without a timely news peg (unless you consider events that happened five years ago timely).
Thus, below a headline about Muslims in a Tennessee town "holding their breath," this is the Page 1 lede where the Post acknowledges (sort of) that there's no actual news here. But now that Donald Trump has been elected president, who knows what might happen, so there must be a story here, right?:
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It was here, in this midsize college town in the dead center of Tennessee, that a right-wing effort to ban Islamic law found one of its first sponsors. Here, too, a congressman co-sponsored a plan to “defund Muslim ‘refugees’ ” and local residents sued to block construction of the only mosque, a fight that ended at the Supreme Court.
The town’s Muslims carried on through all of that, raising their children, saying their prayers, teaching at college, filling people’s prescriptions and filling their tanks, contributing to the civic life in a city of 126,000. They felt the familiar grief and fear of reprisal last year when a Muslim man killed four Marines in Chattanooga, 90 minutes away.
Now Donald Trump — a man who has repeatedly cast doubt on the patriotism of Muslims — is the president-elect, and he has selected a national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has called Islam a “cancer.” And a deep unease has again seeped into the daily life of many here in this Muslim community of about 1,500.
There has been a smattering of post-election harassment and insults — at schools, in parking lots, on the road — but nothing to take to the police or put Murfreesboro back in the national headlines.
“Right now, we’re hoping that it’s going to be calm,” said Saleh Sbenaty, an engineering professor at Middle Tennessee State University and one of the founders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “But we don’t know if it’s the calm before the storm or the calm after the storm.”
Keep reading, and when the Post actually quotes real people by name, insights can be gained:
There are people such as Abdou Kattih, a pharmacist at Walgreens and one of the mosque’s founders, and Jason Bennett, an evangelical advocate for the homeless and a onetime mosque opponent; the two now consider each other close friends.
But the story is at its worst when — on more than one occasion — it quotes unnamed critics of Muslims:
There are people such as the self-described “right-wing Southern Baptist,” shopping at Bullseye Gun, Gear and Pawn on a recent day, who is certain that Muslims think they have the right “to kill you and take your wife as a sex slave.”
In a seeming effort to feed the storyline of an intolerant community, there are strange paragraphs such as this one describing Murfreesboro:
You can drive to the popular shawarma joint for some Arab cuisine, then get back in the car and hear syndicated talk-show host Michael Savage on the radio wondering how many veterans are in jail “for having the guts to kill an Islamo-fascist.”
What exactly does the syndicated radio show — which also airs on a station in Washington, D.C., by the way — add to the story?
Most of the real people quoted (by name) sound like reasonable folks who don't hate Muslims, even if they have real concerns about radical Islamic terrorists.
And if you make it to the end, the real story seems to be that Murfreesboro is a place where folks — Christians and Muslims — generally get along and have made strides in understanding each other better since the controversy of a few years ago:
But there’s more tolerance because of the public acrimony over the mosque, said City Council member Bill Shacklett.
“I wish some of the things hadn’t happened. But the one thing it has done is compel people to open their hearts and minds to be drawn toward each other . . . get out and flesh out your faith with different people,” Shacklett said, adding that Muslims and Christians have started to do that.
“Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had the spotlight put on us for all of that.”
Those three paragraphs are how the story ends.
It's a shame that it couldn't have started there. But that wouldn't have been front-page news, huh?