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VOL. 35 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 13, 2011

Sen. Ketron hands out DVD to support terror bill

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Sen. Bill Ketron has distributed a DVD to his fellow senators that claims Nashville Muslims radicalized a Memphis man who shot an Army recruiter after converting to Islam.

Ketron said the video shows why his Material Support for Designated Entities Act is needed. The measure would direct local district attorneys to contact federal officials if they suspect terrorist activity so federal authorities can declare a person or group a terrorist organization

The video makes many claims that are vague or misleading, and local Muslims say it shows that Ketron's bill is targeted at them, despite his statements to the contrary.

The 16-minute video titled "Losing our Community" was produced by the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance and the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. It focuses on members of the Islamic Center of Nashville, where Abdulhakim Muhammad, who was born Carlos Bledsoe, worshipped for a time while he was a student at Tennessee State University. Muhammad later shot and killed a soldier at a military recruiting center in Arkansas, saying his actions were justified because U.S. soldiers were killing Muslims in the Middle East.

Muhammad's father, Melvin Bledsoe, has publicly blamed the Islamic Center of Nashville for his son's actions. In the video Ketron distributed, Bledsoe says of the Center, "This place may be something that will need a lot more looking at by the American government."

The video doesn't mention that after leaving Nashville, Muhammad travelled to Yemen. His attorneys have said the experience changed him, and Muhammad himself has said he began plotting attacks after his return from that country. The shooting at the recruiting center in June 2009 occurred less than six months after his return to the U.S.

The video claims that the Islamic Center of Nashville's imam at the time Muhammad was there was linked to terror in a 1998 New York Times article that mentions Brooklyn's Al Farooq Mosque. Abdulhakim Mohamed was an imam there before coming to Nashville. But the Times' article actually refers to events that happened prior to Mohamed's relationship with Al Farooq.

It reads, "A few thousand pray at Al Farooq Mosque at the main Friday prayers, but it no longer has a reputation as a hotbed of radical Islamic activity.

"... 'In 1994 this mosque finally settled down,' said Abdulhakim Ali Mohamed, the American-born religious scholar who became the imam, or leader, of the mosque three years ago.

"No one is permitted to misuse the mosque to preach politics or hate, he added."

Islamic Center spokesman Amir Arain said Muhammad may have attended Friday prayer services at the mosque, but no one remembers him and he was never a member. He called the video a "sordid affair of hate-mongering" and said the mosque has been around for four decades without causing any problems.

The other focus of the video is a former mosque member Awadh Binhazim, who is the volunteer Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt University. In the past he has offered free public lectures on Islam that were held on the campuses of both Vanderbilt and Tennessee State University, but he was never a professor at either school (one scene in the video shows him lecturing before a small group and carries the caption "Introduction to Islam, 2008, Vanderbilt University").

Muhammad was a student at TSU, but not at the time Binhazim was offering his lectures there, according to a university spokeswoman, Ariel Ellis. A statement from the university calls the video "an imaginative, but faulty and inaccurate portrayal of Tennessee State University."

In an interview, Binhazim said of Muhammad, "I never met him. I don't know him. He's never been to my classes."

The video shows Binhazim admonishing students to put God above self and not get caught up in a Western way of life, particularly secularism.

The most controversial statement comes at what appears to be a public forum when someone asks whether homosexuality is punishable by death under Islamic law.

Binhazim answers, "Yes."

The questioner also asks whether Binhazim accepts or rejects that teaching, and he answers that as a Muslim he does not have a choice of whether to accept or reject what Islam teaches.

Asked about the exchange, Binhazim said his comments were part of an academic discussion and don't "mean that this is the position I hold."

Ketron seized on the comments when asked why he distributed the video to all the members of the senate.

"I think it clearly shows some of the issues that are before us as far as home grown terrorism. When the gentleman stands up, and he's videotaped talking about ... death to homosexuals, it shows the realities of home grown terrorism right here in our state," he said.

Both Binhazim and Arain, of the Islamic Center, said they feel the video is meant to target them and their groups for the same reason.

"The Muslim community is being targeted because we have been motivating massive opposition to the anti-Sharia bill," Arain said, referring to Ketron's Material Support for Designated Entities Act. In its original form, the bill made numerous references to the Islamic code of conduct known as Sharia. Those references were later removed but Muslims still feel targeted and dozens have packed committee rooms in recent weeks to protest the measure.

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