Islamic Center in Columbia, Tenn., destroyed by white supremacists

As Daoud Abudiab stands amidst the charred rubble of what was the local Islamic Center in the small town of Columbia, Tenn., he recalls the events of the last day-and-a-half.

He was awoken in the early-morning hours of Saturday, Feb. 9, by a phone call from the Fire Department. When he

Islamic Center burned down in Columbia, Tenn.

Daoud Abudiab stands amidst
the  charred rubble the Islamic
Center, Columbia, Tenn. 

arrived, the fire was still ablaze and the roof had collapsed. Three spray-painted swastikas and the words “white power” and “we run the world” had yet to be erased from the scene.

Local, state and federal agents quickly arrested three local residents on federal charges of unlawful possession of a destructive device and state charges of arson. There was talk of possible hate crimes charges. At least two of the three are avowed members of a white-supremacist organization.

Mr. Abudiab and the members of the Islamic Center are now pondering how to conduct prayers this Friday. If the weather permits, they may pray outside next to the burned-down building, or they may use the local church that has offered them a temporary space.

The Islamic Center stood at 1317 S. Main St. for the past eight years. Columbia is about 50 miles from Nashville, the state capital, with a large Muslim population and several Islamic centers and mosques. This center has been an important place of worship and community for those who live or work locally. It is the first mosque ever in Columbia and the only one between Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama—75 miles to the south.

The membership includes immigrants and non-immigrants. It encompasses people of different nationalities—Black, Arab, Asian and white. It includes people of different ages, some of whom come alone, some of whom come as families. Some live or work in the area, while others are just passing through.

Mr. Abudiab moved to Columbia in 1998. Originally from Jerusalem, he was raised in the West Bank and immigrated to Arkansas in 1985. He says he came for work but made the South his home. He spoke of the importance of helping to found the local Islamic Center, noting it was the first time he was able to worship where he lived.

The center started in the garage of a building nearby. Mr. Abudiab describes it as having walls, a ceiling and a floor. Worshippers froze in the winter. They struggled to get by at night. After a year, they bought a building with support from the community and moved.

They are now pledging to build a new center at the same location. They have received media attention across the state, and support from Muslim and other organizations nationwide. The local community, too, has given significant support, including fundraising efforts by a nearby church. Their determination to rebuild is strong.

While the Islamic Center had never received threats, this attack comes in the context of racist attacks against the Muslim and Arab community that are widespread throughout the United States.

These include other violent attacks against mosques and against people carried out by racist bigots. It includes the U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of people in Guantanamo without charges or legal representation, and the continued occupation of huge sections of the Arab world. And it includes the right-wing Internet campaign designed to discredit Barack Obama based on insinuations that he is a Muslim because he lived in Indonesia—a campaign that relies on the bigotry that the right wing knows still permeates sections of the U.S. working class.

The La Riva/Puryear 2008 Presidential Campaign stands firmly in defense of the Muslim and Arab community and against bigoted attacks, and calls on progressive people of all nationalities and religions to do the same.

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