When it comes to people who observe the Muslim faith, Georgia doesn’t exactly put out the welcome mat. If anything, that welcome mat is yanked out from under them.
This animosity takes several forms. If a Muslim group attempts to open a mosque or cemetery, local residents will go berserk and their government will deny the necessary rezoning or building permit.
That happened in Lilburn a few years ago when the city fathers turned down a proposal for a mosque. It happened in Kennesaw when a mosque in a shopping center was temporarily blocked. And it happened in Snellville with attempts to locate a cemetery.
Elected officials also have a hissy fit if you talk about resettling Muslim refugees in Georgia. That happened last year with Gov. Nathan Deal, who demanded that the federal government stop the flow of Syrian refugees here.
The new battlefield has moved to Newton County, where a group called Al Maad Al Islami Inc. purchased a tract of land for a new mosque. After word of their plans got out, local citizens flocked to a county commission hearing to complain.
“We have already seen bombings and beheadings,” said one resident. “Eight years ago our U.S. government got a Muslim president who has put Muslims in power.” (For the record, Barack Obama is a Christian.)
“It’s hard for people like me, and probably most of you tonight, to draw the line between innocent Muslims and radical Muslims, since they’ve all claimed to serve the same God and they all claim to follow the same book,” another resident said.
“You and your children will be living under Sharia law, putting your hand over your heart for Allah,” said a complainant.
Another citizen commented: “Do we have a right to be fearful today? Of course we do. We don’t know these people.” This was from a man who claimed to be a Christian pastor.
The Newton County Commission imposed a moratorium on zoning actions, which put at least a temporary hold on plans for the mosque.
You can understand the fears people have. When you read the news dispatches from the Middle East, it’s human nature to worry that some of the same terrorist organizations could endanger American communities.
The mistake, however, comes from thinking that this country will be safe if we can just keep out all the Muslims. Extremism comes from many sources.
Consider a few incidents from recent history:
In 1994, John Salvi, a white Christian, shot and killed two receptionists at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Massachusetts.
In 1996, Eric Rudolph, a white Christian, carried out the Atlanta Olympics bombing that killed one spectator. He later caused the death of a security guard when he bombed an Alabama abortion clinic.
In 1998, James Charles Kopp, a white Christian, shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian, a doctor who had performed abortions.
In 2008, Jim David Adkisson, a white Christian, went to a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and started shooting people, killing two in the process. Adkission said he did it because he hated liberals, Democrats and gays.
In 2009, Scott Roeder, a white Christian, shot and killed Dr. George Tiller because Tiller had performed abortions.
In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear, a white Christian, killed three people in a shooting spree at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
And we haven’t even talked about Timothy McVeigh, the white military veteran who killed 168 people when he blew up a federal building in Oklahoma. McVeigh wasn’t a Muslim either.
If you extend the argument used by Donald Trump and the opponents of the Newton County mosque to its logical extreme, then we should prohibit all white Christians from entering the U.S. We should also deport those who are living here back to their original country. After all, white Christians have a demonstrated history of murder and violence against American citizens.
I am not advocating that, of course. If all white Christians were to be deported, both sides of my family would be on their way back to Scotland and England.
I don’t want that, and I don’t want to see us trampling on our long-held principles of religious tolerance. Be careful who you want to keep out — you may be putting yourself up for deportation.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.