The person I would trust to properly review this CNN program on the proposed Mufreesboro mosque, is The New English review who has been at the centre of this issue since it began. That review below the video.
(I had to take the code out for the video as it is messing up my site in Firefox, although not in Safari, but you can click the link above to bankoran.com above and it will take you to the whole show. Much more on this below the MORE)
After the first viewing of “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” on Sunday night, March 27th, NER held a focus group discussion with several of the activists and opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) expansion project – the prop for this emotional video production by Soledad O’Brien’s “In America” Series.
In one of the opening stanzas of “Unwelcome,” Imam Ossama Bahloul of the ICM shows the Grand Mosque plot plan for the ICM expansion project and claims the mosque raised $320,000 locally to purchase the 15.3 acre plot. The prior Todd family owner is then shown ruing this prospect on his ancestral farm land that was sold at auction. The documentary then segues into the graphic evidence of community angst about the project, the defacing of the ICM job site notice with the words “Not Welcome” – the send up for the documentary title.
Among those in the focus group conference call were: Kevin Fisher, Lou Ann Zelenik, Elizabeth Coker, and Pete Doughtie, who were all seen in the CNN production. The CNN “Unwelcome” documentary used Kevin Fisher, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Planning Commission and Sally and Howard Wall, a prominent couple in Murfreesboro who also backed the Chancery Court matter brought against the Rutherford County authorities for their summary approval of the ICM Project.
Egyptian born Imam Osaama Bahloul, his American convert wife, Middle Tennessee State University engineering professor Saleh Sbenaty, a Syrian Muslim immigrant and, his Americanized daughter Lena, are the Muslim community spokespersons portrayed as victims of the community’s “bigotry.”
The message that CNN conveyed in “Unwelcome” was that Muslims were being discriminated against “from Manhattanto Murfreesboro.” Video of other protests bolstered the victimhood motif that threaded throughout O’Brien’s interviews along with the impression that the Murfreesboro Muslim community were as American as apple pie..
While better than portrayed in the CNN trailer, “Unwelcome” had flaws.
When asked to rate CNN’s program, the consensus of the focus group was a score of 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being poorest and 5 being the best.
When the focus group was queried about their bottom line assessment, they found “Unwelcome” overly sympathetic to the Muslim side of the controversy. They felt too little attention was paid to the community outrage over the lack of due process in the flawed approval process – the original basis of the Chancery court law suit brought by Fisher and the other plaintiffs.
Joe Brandon, counsel for the Mosque opponents articulated correctly the issues about Islam that he raised in his courtroom presentations and interview in the CNN Unwelcome production. The central issue is the difference between Western notions of worship and our Judeo Christian values versus what is at the core of Islam. My colleague Rebecca Bynum posted on this issue and the measured performance of the loyal opposition:
I was very pleased with the performance of our local folks on camera. Kevin Fisher was gracious and relaxed, Sally and Howard Wall were passionate and articulate and Joe Brandon was forceful and correct in his central argument that Islam is not a religion.
The one word that seemed to be a stumbling block is “worship.” We automatically think that people have the right to worship as they see fit because the Western definition of worship means spiritual communion with a loving God. In Islam, worship is defined as obedience to Islam (which acts as a substitute for God) and therefore even the most heinous acts of jihad are seen as “worship.” In fact, fighting in the way of Allah is the highest form of worship in Islam. Hence, the yelling of “Allahu Akbar!” just before the act is committed.
So, do people have the right to worship as they see fit? The answer is NO.
Kevin Fisher noted during the call what he had said during his interview with O’Brien that reflected this issue but was left out of the CNN “Unwelcome” production. To paraphrase his comment conveyed to the focus group: “No President over the past two centuries has intervened in matters of religious worship.” He asked O’Brien why we now have this President defining what is an official religion vis a vis US Attorney General Holder’s filing an amicus briefin the Chancery Court proceeding (stating Islam is “plainly a religion”) when religion was permitted under our Constitution to define itself.
Liz Coker is shown briefly in “Unwelcome” during her testimony at the Chancery Court hearing discussing screen shots from ICM board member Mosaad Rawash’s Facebook page with glorified pictures of late Hamas leaders Dr. Rantisi and Sheik Yassin. The CNN producers chose this over a more telling one showing in both Arabic and English translation a pledge for support for Hamas. Nor was there any showing of brief segments of the January 9, 2009 You Tube Video of a protest organized by the ICM at the Rutherford County Courthouse in support of Hamas with shouts of “Allahu Akbar.” Rawash was suspended from the ICM board and took a powder for several months, but he is still listed as a member of the board on the ICM website. In the “Unwelcome” production he is erroneously described as simply “a member” of the mosque. Nor were there any references to the Muslim Brotherhood pamphlets obtained during an ICM open house by local activist, Sue Redmond, that were included in Coker’s Power Point presentation.
There is a sequence in “Unwelcome” involving Imam Bahloul and his American convert wife, a former Methodist whom he met while serving at an Irving, Texas Mosque. The CNN team did not check out his prior postings at Islamic Centers in Belgium, Germany and Holland following his graduation from Al-Azhar University in Cairo with advanced degrees in Da’wa –proselytizing. Imam Bahloul also implied that even his four year daughter felt threatened by the controversy which is a bit disingenuous for what looked to be a happy child going off to pre-school.
Imam Bahloul and Lena Sbenaty (daughter of Saleh Sbenaty)are shown separately stating that Muslim women are not oppressed or abused, which flies in the face of Islamic doctrine and practise. Even locally, there was a sign posted in the Islamic Center of Nashville advising members that the Qur’an mandates that wives may be beaten for disobedience and that a man may take another wife without the first wife’s consent. Nor was there any CNN investigation into reports by local public health professionals about evidence of female genital mutilation of Muslim women in the vicinity making child birth difficult and dangerous.
Moreover, neither Imam Bahloul nor members of the ICM board responded to a letter from Former Muslims United requesting them to sign a pledge abjuring death penalty under Islamic doctrine against those who leave Islam by personal choice.
One of the more egregious episodes in “Unwelcome” is a sequence about shots being heard coming from the woods near the ICM job site and the Imam, Professor Sbenaty and the Muslim womenexpressing fear that they were targets. While the Rutherford County Sheriff officerexplained they would investigate, there was no suggestion that it may have been simply dove hunters in the vicinity.
On the matter of the arson on the heavy equipment at the ICM job site which occurred on the night of August 28th, is conveyed as evidence of a “hate crime” – something that Kevin Fisher stated was unlikely to be the case in articles we posted at the time of the incident. The FBI and BATF officials were shown with the Imam and mosque leaders offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the perpetrators.
Sally Wall noted in an O’Brien exchange that there have been incidents of Muslim agent provocateurs perpetrating similar acts in order to emphasize their victim status. “Unwelcome” showed video segments of another Tennessee mosque which may have been torched by opponents. We simply don’t know anything further other than the federal investigators did forensic analysis and decreed the ICM job site incident, arson. The investigation has been notably silent since that September 3rd, 2010 press conference.
While “Unwelcome” shows the early burial on the ICM project site that preceded the controversial County approval for the project in May, 2010, Kevin Fisher is seen briefly voicing health concerns about the burial. “The body was buried in a leather bag, without a vault, which gives cause to worry about contamination of ground water.” O’Brien scoffed at this.
Nothing was presented about the allegations that County Planning Director Doug Demosi exceeded his executive authority in allowing this burial when the plans for a cemetery were not yet approved – a matter referred to the Rutherford County District attorney for investigation.
“Unwelcome” tries to graphically underline the ICM’s necessity for expansion by showing pictures of a spillover crowd at the current mosque location in warehouse district that should have raised local concerns about breaching facility capacity limitations mandated under Tennessee statutes and fire marshal inspection. Moreover, the impression is given that there are 250 Muslim families in the greater Murfreesboro vicinity, a claim we have questioned n the past, since there are only 45 registered members of the mosque. The CNN location shots were done during Ramadan, when the mosque had advance notice of filming. When I filmed exterior shots of a Friday Jummah prayer at the ICM in June, 2010, there was no evidence of the ‘overflow’ problem.
Professor Sbenaty and his American daughter clearly have different opinions about whether Sharia exists at all and what it is. Lena Sbenaty is shown saying she doesn’t know what Sharia is, while her father correctly says it is ‘the way’ you should live by under Islam. She also noisily challenges Lou Ann Zelenik in the filmed sequence that occurred one evening at the Rutherford County Court House. Sbenaty is shown yelling over Zelenik as she attempted to voice concern about the treatment of Muslim women during a filmed news interview.
Imam Bahloul is shown in a sequence playing a hateful, but not really threatening, voice message for O’Brien. However, there was nothing in “Unwelcome” about death threats to both Zelenik and Fisher.
Casting Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess as a “cattle farmer” was misleading. He’s a developer and a Director of National Health Care a NYSE-listed company headquartered in Mufreesboro engaged in development and management of extended and assisted living care facilities where coincidentally, Essam Fathy, the co-founder of the ICM works as an evaluator of assisted living candidates.
Having Noah Feldman, Harvard University Law Professor discuss Sharia was supposed to be an indication of scholarly support for Islam as one of the “three great religions.” Feldman’s contribution was to say, “As a general matter, the Sharia is what you make of it.” Whatever that means.We note that both Feldman and Kanan Makiyaof Brandeis University were retained by the US government as consultants on the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution that mandates Sharia as the ultimate source of law.
We could cite more defects in the CNN “Unwelcome” production. However, without a public airing of these, it would be fruitless. The producers at CNN and O’Brien had already made up their minds as to the central message: Muslims are being discriminated against by mindless bigots in Middle Tennessee and across the US. It is left to Kevin Fisher, the thoughtful and articulate spokesperson for the opposition to conclude at the end of “Unwelcome” that, “I would rather you and I sit here 20 years from now and you interview me and I say, you know what? I was wrong. I was completely wrong about them. They’ve been wonderful and peaceful, but you know what? What if I’m right?”
Meanwhile the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque remains unfinished as they await funding for their Grand Mosque complex in the buckle of the Bible belt.
Below, a related video that should be factored in.