By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Islamic Society of Boston

New questions about the Roxbury mosque

Just finished reading David Bernstein’s excellent piece in this week’s Boston Phoenix on the long-controversial mosque that’s been built in Roxbury, known as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Among other things, Bernstein reports the following:

  • Originally intended as a spiritual center primarily for U.S.-born African-American Muslims, the center’s control shifted long ago to conservative Muslims primarily from the Middle East, some of whom have espoused homophobic and anti-Semitic views.
  • Despite numerous financial difficulties, the project was pushed along at key moments by Mayor Tom Menino and a staff member at the Boston Redevelopment Authority who had a conflict of interest that almost certainly should have led him to recuse himself.
  • Promised benefits to the community have not materialized, and are unlikely to any time soon given the mosque’s ongoing financial problems.
  • Former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, charged by federal authorities with taking bribes, have showed an unusual degree of interest in the mosque.

The mosque has been 20 years in the making, and is still incomplete. A fascinating story, even though there are more questions in Bernstein’s story than there are answers.

A libel case is dropped

If you’re trying to make sense of the news that the Islamic Society of Boston has dropped its libel suit against the Herald, WFXT-TV (Channel 25) and several other defendants (Globe story here; Herald story here), I suggest you read this backgrounder from November 2005, written by Mark Jurkowitz when he was with the Phoenix.

The shorthand version: The Herald and Channel 25 reported that the Islamic Society, which is trying to build a mosque and cultural center in Roxbury with an assist from city officials, has had some uncomfortably close connections with certain Islamist radicals who are, at the very least, soft on terrorism. The Islamic Society denied the allegations.

The Globe was not named as a defendant even though columnist Jeff Jacoby has written several columns on the subject, the latest of which appeared on April 25. It’s a must-read.

This is a pretty convoluted saga, involving not just a suit but also a countersuit, which was also dropped this week. The case also encompassed some angry rhetoric between members of the Islamic and Jewish communities. Even though the libel case has been dropped, we almost certainly haven’t heard the last of this matter.

The winner here is the First Amendment. Libel suits should not be used to squash discussion of important public issues. Perhaps the reporting on this matter fell short of perfection, but, as my man Louis Brandeis liked to say, the solution to alleged bad speech is “more speech, not enforced silence.”

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