A man who firebombed a Tennessee mosque was sentenced in late November to 14 years in federal prison.
Michael Corey Golden, who turned 24 the day after his sentencing, admitted making the Molotov cocktails that burned the Islamic Center of Columbia to the ground on Feb. 9, 2008.
Golden didn’t act alone. Jonathan Stone and Eric Baker were co-conspirators, and the initial federal complaint in the incident said Stone and Baker claimed membership in the Christian Identity movement. The racist movement claims God’s special favor on white European stock.
Not only did the trio set the center aflame, but they also spray-painted graffiti on its walls. Swastikas were accompanied by the phrases “White power” and “We run the world.” Stone and Baker will be sentenced later this month.
After the incident – which was accompanied by helpful responses from some quarters and silence from others – the Islamic Center of Columbia moved to a different building.
I’ve been there. We profiled the story of the center and its president, Daoud Abudiab, in our upcoming documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.” For the project, we traveled south to Columbia and spent time with Abudiab at the new center. We also tracked down Kenny Anderson, pastor of Columbia’s Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, which reached out to the center in the wake of the tragedy.
I was there when Abudiab and Anderson – one raised in Jerusalem, the other in middle Tennessee, one Muslim, the other Christian – met for the first time. They shook hands and hugged. They smiled and laughed. They talked about what brought them together, and what had kept them apart.
They discussed violence and fear, then love and Jesus and Muhammad. They did so in Columbia, Tenn. – home of the 11th U.S. president, James K. Polk.
At his inauguration in 1845, while praising the country’s accomplishments, Polk said: “All citizens, whether native or adopted, are placed upon terms of precise equality. All are entitled to equal rights and equal protection. No union exists between church and state, and perfect freedom of opinion is guaranteed to all sects and creeds.”
Golden, Stone and Baker discounted the words of their forbear and the promise of a country with liberty and justice for all. They brought violence on specifically religious grounds and left it to others to clean up the literal and figurative mess of bigotry.
Our judicial system is taking account of the act, and our religious systems must do no less with the ideology behind it.
Only in recent years have I fully understood the power of and need for certain, swift denunciations of awful behavior – behavior of both deed and tongue. Abraham’s children must not be lethargic in the face of hatred, ignorance and willful deception.
We must speak out, yes, and our words must be followed by actions. We must be agents of God’s good will on earth, redoubling our individual and collective efforts to spread God’s love, mercy and compassion.
We hope “Different Books, Common Word,” with its stories of Baptists and Muslims being good neighbors, will do just that.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com. “Different Books, Common Word” will begin airing on ABC-TV stations in January. Check your local listings.