Killing the Messenger
In the 25 years my writings have appeared in local media, I have become accustomed to being measured for a virtual coffin. My publisher for most of the time, George Delaplaine, put up a strong shield around the News-Post's right to print diverse opinions, including mine.
Some folks in Walkersville tried the same game when they read on TheTentacle.com, my first column last October holding bigots and xenophobes had contaminated their hopes to block a Muslim mosque and convention center in their midst.
Before town attorney Danny O'Connor could rein them in, elected and non-elected spokespersons registered their fears and distaste with the very idea the Ahmadiyya sect might want to build there. Before submitting to legal strictures, men and women in Frederick County expressed strong fears that the Islamic splinter could harbor terrorists.
The town fathers and planning committee set about deliberately and legally to define their collective view that Walkersville was much too small to host the expected 5,000-10,000 that could show up for the annual Ahmadiyya coming together. When pointed out that other events, including the annual fireman’s carnival, attract more folks, an official spouted: "But they don't spend the night."
If a 50-man Army platoon showed up after sunset, they'd find the town up MD194 would have to turn away what once was a corporal's command. God forbid, a carpenter and his pregnant wife go looking for a room to rest before moving on to Bethlehem, PA. There are no inns with rooms to accommodate most outsiders, on any given night.
Last October when my initial TheTentacle.com column appeared opponents' arguments were not about space or highways, it concentrated on a general desire to block any Islamic attempt to establish a presence in Walkersville.
In a town that spawned John "Lennie" Thompson's political career, nobody should have been surprised. The county commissioner scuttled Islamic Society of Frederick's hopes to build a school, a cemetery and a house of worship in the Buckeystown area. Lennie's arguments didn't make much sense, in the light of federal law, but he controlled votes on the board.
If contacted, Mr. Thompson could point to the fact that the ISF filed no suits. They bought the land and accepted Mayor Jennifer Dougherty's invitation to move into the city. One of the community's leading Muslims explained:
"Our faith teaches patience," he said. "Our society will be in Frederick long after the commissioner passes." In the meanwhile, present plans call for the Islamic community to hold on to the Buckeystown property, he said.
Maryland's Ahmadiyyis went the other way; they bowed out of the contract with the Moxleys, who own the former Nicodemus farm. By withdrawing, the sect removed some emotionalism, making the lawsuit strictly a matter of law. Filing with U.S. District Court removed the question entirely from opinion, except the judge's.
My most recent (Feb. 29, 2008) TheTentacle.com column on the subject, "Finally, the Courts (I Hope)" ran in response to the final official vote on denying the sect to use the property for their religious purposes. In all, over the past nine months I wrote five columns in almost as many tones, hoping Walkersville would stop making itself (and the county) a spectacle of xenophobia and bigotry. To no avail.
Meanwhile, friends and acquaintances from the Walkersville area have stuck me "in Coventry:” no one to be spoken to. My phone calls were not returned for doing my job. The world and Frederick abound with journalists who care more for others' opinions than doing their job. So be it!
Messenger-journalists understand, early, truth and the message are much more important than their hides. That is the most important premise of my professional life.