Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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No actual news? No problem as elite paper puts Bible Belt city under Islamophobia microscope

No actual news? No problem as elite paper puts Bible Belt city under Islamophobia microscope

What do the kind people of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a city of 126,000 about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, think about Muslims?

It's complicated.

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.”

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Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Never thought I'd write a post like this.

At GetReligion, we complain all the time about "ghosts" -- religious or spiritual angles to stories that news media miss or downplay. But in one report on the torching of a mosque in Florida, one religious angle may have been actually overplayed.

Just after midnight Monday, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the home mosque of Omar Mateen, who shot 49 people on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Wednesday, officers announced the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber, who they said confessed to the crime.

Schreiber left a lot of clues. Aside from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses, he'd posted Facebook messages saying that "ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL" and that its followers should be considered terrorists and "crimanals" (sic). He also has a record of theft and robbery.

So far, so routine. But then comes the Daily Beast, which says Schreiber "describes himself as a Jew for Jesus, a religious sect that believes Jesus is the messiah."

Says the Beast:

The first clues to Schreiber’s religious beliefs also come from his Facebook page, where his cover photo features the seal of messianic Judaism. It shows a menorah and a Jesus fish intersecting to form the Star of David. 
Many of Schreiber’s three dozen Facebook friends also self-identify with Messianic Judaism, either proclaiming themselves members of the faith in their profiles, or saying that they work at Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Previous media reports described Schreiber, who spewed anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, as Jewish. But Messianic Jews, colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, occupy a nebulous space in the religious landscape. (Jews for Jesus is also a recognized nonprofit organization that promotes a type of Messianic Judaism.)

The Beast alertly quotes Rabbi Bruce Benson of Temple Beth Israel in Fort Pierce, who says that messianics are “outside the parameters of accepted Jewish thinking."  Benson says Schreiber studied Torah there awhile, and that Schreiber's late grandfather was once a member of the temple.

Interesting details. So, how do they play into Schreiber's hostility toward Islam and Muslims? That's where the article falls silent. It fails to show that messianic Jews tend toward hatred of Muslims.

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Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

What would happen if mainstream media did their own reporting? They just might avoid the kinds of gaps and gaffes marring the coverage of a controversy over a South Florida mosque.

The Islamic Center of Boca Raton has been used as a polling site for some years by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, but this year she changed her mind. Why? Because she says she got a lot of complaints, including threats. 

It's a more than worthwhile story acting as a kind of microcosm for national questions of tolerance, terrorism, religious freedom and church (or mosque) and state. And it's worth more than the cut 'n' paste jobs that have been passing for, you know, showing up and/or phoning.

The story came out last Friday in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but it wasn't till midweek that it caught on in national media. 

Then the gaffes began.

The New York Daily News ran a photo supposedly showing the Islamic Center. But it's really the Assalam Center, a different mosque a little more than a mile south. And the Washington Post today led with, "Since at least the year 2010, citizens have cast their votes within the pastel green walls of the mosque. No, they haven't. The light green mosque opened in 2012. Before then, the members rented space at a shopping plaza.

And those are just the easiest soft spots to spot.

Aside from its error on the ICBR building, the WaPo article may not contain a single original word. It's assembled from eight sources -- including the Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and West Palm Beach-based WPTV. The newspaper also added canned statements from two Congress members, the Florida Family Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. WaPo's only redeeming feature is admitting its sources.

The Associated Press doesn't even wait for you to read its lede. "People Vote in Churches and Synagogues. Why Not a Mosque?," says its headline, which was used by ABC News and elsewhere.

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In story about Muslim women art exhibit, follow-up questions are not on the menu

In story about Muslim women art exhibit, follow-up questions are not on the menu

Ever taste only part of a good meal? An article on an art exhibit on Muslim women in the Tampa Bay Times feels like that.

The Times raises several tantalizing questions about Muslim women -- their garb, their self-image, their public image -- but doesn't follow up most of them. The result reads less like dinner and more like a canape. 

It's a timely and urgent topic because traditional Muslim women  face more profiling than so Muslim men. With headdresses variously covering their hair, or wrapping around their necks as well, women are instantly identifiable as non-Jews or non-Christians -- and non-secular people, for that matter. So "Loud Print," the show at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, has the potential to open some eyes.

The artist, Ameena Khan, seems acutely aware of the issues herself:

Khan uses her artwork to initiate conversations about Muslim women. Her paintings portray a diverse group of women wearing hijabs, a cloth wrapped around their heads. One of the most striking paintings shows a woman struggling to keep her head up because her yellow hijab is so big. It's meant to represent the struggles Muslim women face wearing a hijab in public.
Meant to keep Muslim women hidden, the hijab seems instead to draw unwanted attention and sometimes hateful comments, Khan said. 
"You have this burden that you're carrying around," she said. "That's all people see."

Sounds pretty evocative, but it stops short. If a woman's most prominent garb is a symbol of her religion, and if a hijab is meant to keep women hidden, how are people to see the individual underneath? How is she to express herself otherwise? The Times doesn't say.

It does explain the idea of starting a conversation about Muslim women -- partly. Interestingly, the artist did it via social media:

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