“It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again” in Mayfield

mosque rejectedMayfield, Kentucky, my hometown, is in the national news again, this time for banning a mosque.

The last time was 1986, for banning a book.

Some local Somali Muslims recently petitioned the city government to permit them to turn an empty store building into a mosque. The city board of planning and zoning said no, claiming the building didn’t have enough parking spaces.

To quote the great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Mayfield, the Graves County seat, hasn’t suffered this much bad press since the county school board removed William Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying, from the county high school almost two dozen years ago.

Anyway, I’m taking the board at its word that parking, not prejudice, motivated its action. “We don’t want to discuss religion; that’s not what we’re here for,” the chairman warned about 250 people who crowded city hall when the board met to vote.

Owners of two businesses next to the building spoke against the mosque. They said they “feared the worshipers would take up limited parking in the area,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the state’s largest newspaper.

A board member told the television reporter “he would welcome the Muslims applying for a permit in a different part of the city.” The city planner explained that the Somalis, whose African homeland is one of the poorest countries on earth, could “appeal to circuit court or could petition to open a mosque at a shopping center with more parking,” the Courier-Journal also said.

The WPSD news broadcast about the meeting described it as “heated, very heated.” At least one spectator brought a Bible. A few wore t-shirts proclaiming, “”I’m an American, I believe in the Christian Church,” according to the reporter from WKMS radio at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.

The crowd, which was all white, or close to it, applauded the unanimous board vote. But the WPSD reporter said people in the crowd told her “they are ready to come back here and fight this all over again.” Hence, she suggested “parking really isn’t the issue.”

No Somalis were present at the meeting. “The Paducah Sun and WPSD-TV reported they did come but initially were denied entrance because the room was full and [law enforcement] officers did not realize they were there to represent the project,” the Courier-Journal said. “When the mistake was recognized, officials searched for them outside the building but could not find them, according to the reports.”

Before the meeting, the reporter asked one of the business owners if he’d be against a Baptist church going in next door to him. “The way I see it, they would park where they are supposed to park,” he said on camera. “These people [Somalis] do not care.”

While the reporter was interviewing the businessman outside his store, a man shouted “Get ‘em out of here!” from a passing vehicle.

But at the meeting, the owner, according to WKMS, said of the Somalis, “These people are the best neighbors I’ve had. I don’t want to keep them from worshipping, wherever that is. Just so it’s not there.”

This lifelong Mayfield resident hopes the Somalis submit another petition and get a mosque. There are two shopping centers in town with several empty store buildings.

Meanwhile, I remember the county high school book flap. I helped cover it for the Sun, where I spent more than a dozen years as a reporter.

I wonder how many folks in the city hall crowd would have applauded – or maybe did applaud — the school board when it unanimously banned the famous Faulkner novel. The board and its supporters claimed the book was obscene and contrary to their Christian values. After a parent threatened to sue and the ACLU got involved, the board reinstated the book. (The ACLU is looking into the planning and zoning board’s action.)

Anyway, I have faith that the planning and zoning board would approve a petition to have a mosque where there is ample parking. I also believe a majority of my fellow citizens are more like Jeff Keith than like the people who don’t want a mosque in Mayfield, period.

Keith is youth pastor at the  First Baptist Church . The Courier-Journal said “he hoped a solution could be found because he did not want the Somalis to feel unwelcome.”

Back in ’86, the book banning gave Mayfield (the city has its own high school but the county high school is in the city limits) the same sort of unwelcome notoriety we’re getting now. The board was rightly ridiculed in editorials statewide and nationwide.

Mayfield “mosque battle” prompted editorial comment from the Courier-Journal:

“Recent headlines out of New York City might persuade the nation that the Big Apple is the only place where something rotten is happening to Muslims  who wish to fulfill the American promise of worshiping their God in their holy house, without interference. A different story, one very close to home, lies beyond those headlines. The Christian Science Monitor recently spotlighted four ‘mosque battles’ brewing across the country, including the one near Ground Zero in New York. To Kentucky’s shame, a Florence controversy was profiled along with those in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Temecula, California, and, of course, New York.

This is a test of our commitment to American values,’ Mayor Bloomberg said in New York the same day the Mayfield board took its action. ‘Let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose.’

“In the shadows of the mosque battles brewing in their own state, Kentuckians should make the same declaration.”

A footnote: The day the board voted down the petition, a 23-year-old Somali man was arrested in Mayfield and charged with attempting to kidnap a 12-year-old girl. The man says he is innocent. His attorney is suspicious of the timing and the nature of the alleged incident.

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that the man in custody is on the national terrorist watch list, that some of the Somalis belong to al Qaeda, that Somalis have committed eight rapes at a chicken processing plant where they work, that Somalis have brought a new illegal drug to town, and that another Somali tried to abduct a child at Mayfield Middle School earlier this year.

It’s all baloney, according to authorities.So is the notion that all Muslims should be held culpable for 9/11. Sadly, some mosque battlers in Mayfield and other communities think along those lines.

Yet I’m sure none of them fault all Christians for the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history before 9/11. The perpetrator was Timothy McVeigh, an American white guy who said he was a confirmed Catholic, according to Time magazine.

Too, it stands to reason that at one time or another, people who profess Christianity have been convicted of kidnapping, rape, drug dealing and other serious crimes in Mayfield and other communities. But I haven’t heard anybody condemn the Christian religion wholesale or demand the city disallow Christian houses of worship.

Berry Craig

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Comments

  1. Jenifer R. says

    I was at the council meeting (and have an audio recording of the entire meeting) and it was not the Klan meeting that it has been made out to be. Actually WPSD-TV was very biased in its reporting. I stood at the shoulder of the cameraman as an Egyptian immigrant was being interviewed. I recorded that interview also. The ONLY soundbite that was aired was a snippet making it sould like that man was saying that all Muslims are terrorists which was totally misleading. After that the WPSD news crew chased the “Muslim family” out the front door of City Hall as the woman was having a melt down, cussing everybody on the way out. That was after her younger brother was trying to start a confrontation and they REFUSED to leave City Hall when repeatedly ordered to by police officials. That family was the only disorderly aspect of the whole meeting. Ironic that WPSD-TV brushed off the Egyptian immigrant who happened to be a Christian while they went home with the Muslim family and went even further as to search out another Muslim family to sit down with in their home. Totally biased!

    Latest new flash, the head of Islamaca International, along with his wife, was in Mayfield today meeting with the Somalis. WPSD-TV has finally done something right, they are broke a story that this leader of Islamaca International is a convicted sex offender, the victim being a 12 year old. He has also served six months in prison and has a further criminal record.

  2. lyssophobe says

    @Chris:

    You are absolutely correct in questioning the timing of the arrest on for the alleged attempted kidnapping. A few more troubling nuggets:

    1) The alleged victim’s mother was a member of the jeering crowd opposed to the zoning exemption for the Somalis’ mosque.

    2) Hours before the alleged kidnapping attempt, the alleged victim’s mother contacted police to report that a white Ford Taurus with temporary license tags had driven past her and honked.

    3) The alleged victim reported to police that her attacker had been “a Somali,” not simply an African-American or a black male, but specifically “a Somali.” That’s fairly unprecedented cultural awareness for a 12-year-old in Mayfield, Kentucky.

    The local NBC affiliate has been surprisingly (to me, anyway) even-handed with their coverage of the entire situation. You can see their latest report on this aspect of the story here.

  3. Chris Carrico says

    Hi, Berry,

    Chris Carrico here; long time, no see!

    I have a question: what has become of the individual who was arrested on the same day for alleged attempted kidnapping? My main source of news is Courier-Journal online, and it has been silent since the day of the vote.

    I try not to rush to judgment, but the timing of this arrest troubles me deeply. Here’s hoping justice – whatever that means in this case – is ultimately served.

    Glad to see you’re still writing. Take care-

    Chris Carrico
    Metamora, IL

  4. mayfieldunschooler says

    I want to add that the Somalis have made it very clear that they want to stay on the site where they are located now. The ACLU is considering taking the case, and if the ACLU does not, Islamaca International has stated their intention to take the case, as they have decided that there were clear violation of the Somali’s right to free exercise of religion.

    I have met the Somalis and their gratitude to know that there are people in the community that care about them has touched my heart. They asked us, “How do you know about us?” They seem to be somewhat unaware that their cause is receiving national attention and the extent of the media coverage.

    They said, “We did not know there were people here who cared.”

    If the people in Mayfield will begin to talk with the Somalis and get past the fear, they will find open and generous spirits.

  5. mayfieldunschooler says

    I respectfully disagree that parking is the issue here. I am intimately familiar with the building and the vicinity. The media reports on the six parking spaces on the actual building site but fails to report on the large lot the Somalis have been given permission to use behind the buildings on the street on the back side that accommodates another ten or so vehicles. They fail to point out the free street parking directly across on the highway running in front of the mosque. They fail to report that there is extensive residential available street parking within 2 blocks of this building. They fail to report that Somalis arrive in vans in groups. They fail to report that use of the building is sporadic other than on weekends, particularly Friday night.

    I continue to have a hard time understanding why people are so concerned about parking causing some kind of safety issue. Nearby Murray State does not have adequate parking, each business on the square does not have adequate parking, and City Hall did not have 250 spots for the crowd that showed up for the meeting. If a place does not provide for parking (as is common in large cities for just about every place you go), people park where they can and walk to the site. People are not allowed to park illegally, but if they do there are natural consequence such as ticketing or fines. Businesses don’t get as many customers if it is hard to access the business because of parking. But if the Somalis are willing to walk from available street parking that is available pretty readily in that area, more power to them. It sounds like a good way to promote healthy walking behavior to me. Is it a law in America that people have to park within a certain distance of where they are going? I guess I think about it differently with a daughter in Philadelphia who uses a bicycle and does not own a car.

    But– why is having to park a distance from where you intend to go a “problem” for anyone in the community other than the person who is choosing to walk to where they are going from where they have to park?

    Furthermore there are additional issues:
    There is no documentation of the actual census use of the building by the Somalis and no evidence of parking problems or violations. The Somalis cannot just “pick up and move” to a new site because this one is accessible by walking to where a number of them live or work on the downtown square, and it is very affordable. They have an excellent relationship with their landlord and may not be able to find another property owner willing to rent to them or treat them as well. Another location with more parking may not only be unaffordable to them, it will place them in a more vulnerable and isolated position away from their residences and away from the police station. Right now they are two blocks from the police station and the town square.

    Justice is not served if they are denied their place of worship based on hypothetical parking problems that have not been occurring in the four months they have been using the site.

  6. says

    “Too, it stands to reason that at one time or another, people who profess Christianity have been convicted of kidnapping, rape, drug dealing and other serious crimes in Mayfield and other communities. But I haven’t heard anybody condemn the Christian religion wholesale or demand the city disallow Christian houses of worship.”

    Indeed! As I recall, Hitler was a confirmed Catholic, but no one is accusing all Catholics of thinking as Hitler did. I’ve grown weary of hearing that all Muslims are terrorists/al Qaeda. Who’s feeding the American people this line of bull? Heck, even Ru, er, Ron Paul knows better than that! The last person who asked me if I’d read the part of the Qur’an that says Muslims should hate and eradicate other religions oddly hadn’t read it herself – she was just repeating what she’d been told. When did we become a nation of Polly Parrot non-thinkers?

    Scary, very scary. Hey, talking heads, if you don’t mind I’d rather think for myself, thank you very much.

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