Opinion

Commentary: Fear-mongering is peaking with ground zero 'mosque' outrage

Suddenly, the likes of O'Neal Dozier have gone mainstream.

South Florida blanched in 2006 when the Rev. Dozier instigated his fear-mongering protests as Broward County's oldest Islamic congregation sought zoning approval for a new mosque.

Dozier led demonstrations outside Pompano Beach City Hall, his protesters carrying signs proclaiming "No mosque" and "No jihad in my backyard."

At the city commission meeting, Dozier denigrated Islam as a terrorist cult. "Mooooslims," he warned -- drawing out the pronunciation in a mocking manner -- only wanted to move into northwest Pompano Beach to recruit young black men and lure them into unseemly acts. Dozier and his followers shouted "Islam is evil."

Ugly words. But most of South Florida recognized that Dozier dwelled on the xenophobic fringe, spouting stuff utterly unacceptable to general society.

The Pompano Beach City Commission ignored Dozier's demands to reject the application of the Islamic Center of South Florida to build a new mosque. Gov. Jeb Bush jettisoned Dozier from the 17th Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission. Charlie Crist pushed him off his campaign advisory committee. Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld dismissed a lawsuit claiming the Pompano Beach mosque would harbor terrorism.

Dozier and his intellectually indefensible claims were banished by mainstream America in 2006.

But not quite for forever.

Dozier's bigoted sentiments have been resurrected, though this time by mainstream politicians over a proposed Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the fallen World Trade Center. Leaders like Sarah Palin, John McCain and professed political intellectual Newt Gingrich argue that their objections have to do with the project's proximity to the 9/11 site, but their statements about Islam sound discomfitingly familiar to anyone who remembers O'Neal Dozier's ugly turn in 2006. Pompano Beach, by the way, is about 1,250 miles from the World Trade Center site.

And Dozier-like characterizations of Muslims have been erupting these past few months in other places far from New York City. In Temecula, Calif., protesters against a new mosque carried signs demanding "No More Mosques in America" and "No Rights for Mosques" and "Mosques are Monuments to Terrorism."

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, similar protests received support from leading congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, who stated, "This 'Islamic Center' is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee."

In Sheboygan, Wis., what began as a mundane dispute over traffic and parking concerns devolved into extreme, Dozier-like characterizations of a proposed mosque.

Muhammed Malik, former director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Monday that he hoped this "race to the bottom" -- with candidates churning a visceral fear of Islam and immigration and other divisive issues -- was just the stuff of a volatile primary season.

Maybe when the winning primary candidates across the country compete for moderates and independents in the general election, they'll tone down their divisive rhetoric. And sound less like the Rev. Dozier redux.

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