The city of Lilburn recently found itself under the bright spotlight of national attention. It wasn’t a comfortable experience.
All the elements required to take a local story national were there: a small southern town feuding over the construction of a mosque in the center of town.
A group of Muslims requested rezoning to expand its worship space in Lilburn. Residents objected. Twice the request was voted down by city council. A lawsuit was filed and the U.S. Department of Justice threatened intervention. The end result is that after two years of wrangling, the Muslims can build their mosque in the city of Lilburn.
The entire chain of events has been prickly. Those speaking for or against the mosque put themselves in the position of being labeled either racist and xenophobic or anti-American and pro-terrorist. That’s a simplification of the situation, but note that nearly every argument against the mosque — whether spoken to the city council or among neighbors over the backyard fence — included the disclaimer “This is not about religion.”
Rather, the protestors cited land use, traffic, hours of operation and noise as the reasons the mosque should not be allowed to expand by 20,000 square feet. Some found those arguments tough to buy.
National media picked up the story. Lilburn’s dilemma was examined by media ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Fox News to cable talk shows. It’s all over the Internet.
America is reading, watching and browsing the mosque story. So how is the city being portrayed? Is Lilburn perceived as being inhabited by bigots reacting to fear of Islamic infiltration? Or is it being criticized for succumbing to the rezoning request? The answer, unfortunately, is both.
Lilburn, a city that proudly displays a photo of a local Hindu temple on its website, is being painted with too broad of a brush. The story America now links to Lilburn is just one snapshot in an album filled with other photos.
Lilburn is a proud community that celebrated its centennial last year. It gathers at farmers markets on Fridays. It celebrates the talents of its citizenry with “Lilburn Idol.” It’s a network of neighborhoods that hold community garage sales. It’s a community that believes in its slogan “Small Town. Big Difference.” It’s a city working hard to plan a viable, sustainable community for future generations.
Do not judge the whole town on this snippet of news. There’s so much more to the people and community of Lilburn that the rest of America has yet to learn. And in this entire sordid tale, that may be the greatest injustice of all.