And where does this leave American Muslims? Since the September 11 attacks, no group of Americans has had a more difficult time balancing the reality of their daily lives with the promised protection of the Bill of Rights. Regardless of whether they, or even their parents, were born in the U.S., American Muslims face fellow citizens who are afraid of the next mass murder, and believe that Islam is intent on destroying America.
Like nearly every religion reporter I know, I’ve written a lot about the Muslim American experience in recent years. It’s difficult to explain to other Americans the fear this community lives with. One Muslim described it to me as a tidal wave they see growing on the not-so-distant horizon. They hope the wave will dissipate, but instead it grows and gets closer to shore, especially during election years.
Just a few weeks ago, in late February, I got an e-mail from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. This was not unusual. Like most beat reporters, I get hundreds of press releases a day. Some I look at, some I don’t. From CAIR alone, I typically receive from one to three e-mails every day, and I had never acted on one before. But this one was different. It involved a mosque I cover in south St. Louis. The CAIR press release said that the FBI had been asked to investigate several comments on two blogs, which threatened a minaret being built outside the mosque.
I had covered the groundbreaking of the minaret—the first to be built in St. Louis. The mayor had been there to praise pluralism and throw a little dirt around for the cameras. In Muslim countries, the minaret is the tower from which the muezzin chants the call to prayer. But as I noted in the original story, this particular 107-foot minaret was symbolic, not functional.
Now I wrote a second story, which was maybe twelve column-inches long and ran the next day on the bottom of B2. It was workmanlike—it did what it had to do for our readers—and nothing more. I wrote that the author of a local blog, Gateway Pundit: Observations of the World from the Heart of Jesusland, had posted some photos of the minaret covered in scaffolding. One of the photo captions read, “Those calls to prayers ought to go over really well with the people of this South St. Louis neighborhood.”
I quoted the imam, who confirmed what I’d already written—that the minaret had no sound system or speakers and would not be used to call Muslims to prayer. I also quoted an FBI spokesman as well as a CAIR spokesman, and then detailed some of the comments that had alarmed Muslims and caused them to inform the FBI.
For example, one visitor to Gateway Pundit had written: “It is really hard on us white, nonMuslims to have to live with these folks taking over our neighborhood and community. Our government helping these people relocate into America’s heartland is like inviting the enemy into your camp. It’s totally disgusting.” On another blog, Little Green Footballs, a visitor named “Amer1can” upped the ante: “Would be a shame if it were to be vandalized or destroyed. Just a shame I tell you .wink wink STL youth.” Another visitor to the same blog added: “I suppose dynamite would be considered an extreme response.”
That was it. Twelve inches. Bottom of B2.
But of course, B2 doesn’t really exist anymore. Not on the Internet. The next morning, the e-mails started coming in at around nine. Many of them complained that I had written a story “planted” by CAIR, which was, I was told over and over again, a front for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and a fundraising arm for other Islamist terrorist organizations. But it was only after my testy e-mail exchange with Charles Johnson, the proprietor of Little Green Footballs, that the real fun began—especially after Johnson posted our correspondence on the blog.