Friday, September 03, 2010

The Monsters Are Due in Murfreesboro

One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." Cue Rod Serling:

Maple Street, USA. Late Summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and a flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 PM on Maple Street.

This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street, in the last calm and reflective moment...before the monsters came.

The episode begins with a shadow passing over Maple Street, followed by a thunderous noise and a flash of light. The power goes out and none of the cars will start. The neighborhood fanboy suggests that aliens are invading and that some aliens probably moved into the neighborhood in advance of the invasion, disguised as humans. The residents of Maple Street dismiss the comic-book scenario at first, but as strange things continue to happen, the alien invasion idea takes hold. The neighbors panic and begin suspecting and accusing one another of being aliens in disguise. Paranoia and violence ensue and the once idyllic neighborhood self-destructs. The episode's final scene shows two aliens overlooking Maple Street from a nearby hillside. The aliens remark on how easy it was to incite panic and conclude that the best way to conquer earth is to let the earthlings destroy themselves.

"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" first aired in the wake of the Second Red Scare, but I've thought about it a lot this week as I've reflected on the reaction to the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro's plans to build a new facility. The situation on Maple Street isn't completely analogous to what is going on in Murfreesboro (I'm not sure who in Rutherford County is playing the role of the aliens), but in both cases fear, paranoia, and prejudice have turned neighbors against one another.

If you aren't familiar with the controversy over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM), it's similar to the controversy surrounding the Park51 project in Manhattan, but opponents of the ICM don't have the proximity-to-Ground-Zero argument to fall back on. (To my knowledge, Muslims had nothing to do with any of the lives that were lost on the Stones River National Battlefield.) Instead they argue that Middle Tennessee's Muslim community will use the new facility to train terrorists. Why else would Muslims build a swimming pool and a playground if not to train terrorists? Opponents ignore the fact that most of the approximately one thousand members of the ICM have lived in Murfreesboro for years, without incident, and are part of the community. Neighbors. The ICM is building the new facility because its current space does not accommodate the congregation's membership. (It's the same thing churches in Middle Tennessee do all the time.)

If you want to learn more about the controversy, watch this segment from The Daily Show.

What disturbs me most about this situation (even more than the alleged arson at the ICM site last weekend) is the way that people in the Boro have turned on their neighbors. It's sad. Ignorance, fear, and election-year politics—like the shadow, noise, and power outage on Maple Street—have caused a vocal minority of Middle Tennesseans to assume the worst about people who have lived peacefully in their community for years. People who have lived in the same neighborhoods, shopped in the same stores, eaten at the same restaurants, and signed their kids up for the same soccer leagues suddenly are at odds, and for no good reason. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

Cue Rod Serling:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own: for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.

See also: this post from local blogger Stephen Yeargin


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan believed that every Catholic church had a basement full of rifles and ammunition, ready to overthrow the US government at the signal of the Pope.

Things haven't changed much.

8:01 AM  

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