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Plan for Muslim Cemetery Met With Fear

Critics in Tennessee Community Suggest Move Could Bring Terrorism, Disease

By Woody Baird
Associated Press
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A10

SOMERVILLE, Tenn. -- Muslims planned to turn an old sod farm near Memphis into a cemetery, but angry neighbors protested, complaining that the burial ground could become a staging ground for terrorists or spread disease from unembalmed bodies.

It was not the first time a group faced opposition when trying to build a cemetery or a mosque, but the dispute stood out for the clarity of its anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Mohammad Halimah, a Memphis businessman, supports plans for a Muslim cemetery in nearby Fayette County, Tenn. Neighbors of the property have raised concerns that the project, which may include a mosque, could be a staging ground for terrorists. (Greg Campbell -- AP)

"We know for a fact that Muslim mosques have been used as terrorist hideouts and centers for terrorist activities," farmer John Wilson told members of a planning commission last month.

Similar disputes have arisen elsewhere when Muslim groups sought to develop mosques or cemeteries, which are often the first Islamic institutions in some communities.

Opponents of a proposal to open a mosque in Voorhees, N.J., distributed an anonymous flier warning that Islamic worshipers might include "extremists and radicals." Arguments over a proposed Muslim cemetery near Atlanta persisted for more then a year before officials approved preliminary plans.

Critics of the projects generally complain about potential damage to the environment, reduced property values and traffic congestion, but many also associate Islam with terrorism.

Rabiah Ahmed of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said she noticed more protests of Muslim building proposals after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, so she was not surprised by the cemetery critics near Memphis.

"It's not shocking, but it is discouraging," Ahmed said from the council's headquarters in Washington.

Opponents told the Fayette County planning commission in November that power lines would be prime targets for terrorists in the region about 20 miles east of Memphis.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you may think this is far-fetched, but that is what the Jewish people thought when the Nazis started taking a small foothold, a little at a time, in their community," Wilson said.

In a telephone interview later, Wilson said he and his neighbors are primarily worried about their property values, but, he added, news reports cannot be ignored.

"I don't think anyone who has read the newspaper or seen what investigations have gone on about other mosques would not have those kinds of concerns," he said.

Belinda Ghosheh, owner of the five-acre plot being considered for the cemetery, said a meeting of planning officials drew such a hostile crowd she feared for her safety. One woman yelled, "We don't need bin Laden's cousins in our neighborhood."

Ghosheh and her husband, a native of the Middle East who has been a U.S. citizen for more than 20 years, live in neighboring Shelby County.

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