From the Editor

Wrong time to clam up

Executive EditorSeptember 5, 2009 

In the last decade, local Muslim leaders have reached out to the Triangle, seeking to forge a strong relationship with people of all faiths.

Part of that effort included being accessible to reporters, especially at The News & Observer, one of the few news outlets in North Carolina with a full-time faith reporter.

Now, following the indictment of eight Triangle men on terrorism charges, the area's most prominent mosque, the Islamic Association of Raleigh, is limiting access.

To report from the mosque property in West Raleigh, a journalist now must sign a document with six mandates, including: "The Media may not interview any individual on the premises of the Islamic Center of Raleigh or at any other IAR event, except for the authorized IAR spokesperson or any other designated individual as authorized by the IAR leadership." We mentioned the rules in an Aug. 16 article.

The rules bar reporters and photographers from mosque premises unless they sign a document restricting their movements and acknowledging the threat of legal action if they violate the agreement. The N&O declined to sign the document. Previously, journalists typically had easy access to the mosque.

Each of the indicted men had attended the mosque, although Daniel Boyd, accused ringleader of the indicted men, and his family had left.

Some IAR members were upset that reporters went to the mosque after the indictments, saying that IAR had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity.

After the indictments, the IAR's leadership team prevented the mosque's spiritual leader from speaking with reporters -- a different approach than the mosque has taken in recent years. It had welcomed reporters. IAR members wanted to show that they shared the same basic values as their Christian and Jewish neighbors.

That was a smart strategy. Their openness led to stories in The N&O and elsewhere about their mosque, their people and their faith. Those stories helped Muslims further their broader goal of building bonds in the community.

Imran Aukhil, a spokesman for the mosque, said the rules aren't new, that they've just been put in writing. The mosque needs to control access to its buildings, he said; it wants to protect the children who attend school there and the privacy of all who seek to worship privately.

Aukhil said the mosque is revising the recently released written rules because "some of the terminology was a bit bold and was misinterpreted." He added: "We want to make sure people are comfortable where they worship."

That makes sense. Leaders of the mosque are free to set the rules they think are right for their members. We don't want to infringe on a person's right to worship as he or she chooses, in privacy.

At the same time, local Muslims have benefited over the years from being open. Instead of retreating in the wake of the indictments, I hope Triangle Muslim leaders will remember they have a story to tell, and we can help tell it.

john.drescher@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4515

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