Kim Bobo

Recognition of Muslim Holiday Stirs Fury in Tennessee

On Friday, August 1, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette ran a story entitled "Tyson drops Labor Day holiday for Eid al-Fitr" that unleashed a firestorm of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, both of which seem far too prevalent for a nation built by immigrants and priding itself on the freedom of religion.

The story was based on an a press release from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announcing that its new contract included a paid holiday for Eid al-Fitr, which is the most important Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Eid al-Fitr, often called just Eid, is as important to Muslims as Christmas or Easter is to most Christians. The Times-Gazette article explained that the negotiated contract gave workers Eid as a holiday in place of Labor Day.

Both Tyson Foods and RWDSU seemed a bit surprised by the vitriolic community response to a negotiated contract that addressed both worker and employer concerns. In past years it had been difficult to operate the plant because so many of the plant's Muslim workers took off on Eid, so the contract appeared to be a win-win approach. The plant employs approximately 1,200 workers of which 700 are Muslim. Among the Muslim workers are 250 relatively new Somali refuges. Unfortunately, many Shelbyville residents didn't see the contract as a win-win. Instead, many viewed the switching of Eid for Labor Day as anti-American. The reader responses to the initial articles offer a flavor of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments.

Commenter "kingtown" wrote that:

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Religious Leaders Protest Postville Raid

Why did Catholics and Jews join forces in Postville, Iowa, on Sunday, July 27? Why did upwards of 1,000 people protest in this rural town of only 2,200? Why is Postville all over the Orthodox Jewish press and in the emails of court interpreters?

Postville, roughly 200 miles northeast of Des Moines, is home to Agriprocessors, Inc, the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. No one knows definitively how the company's workers (not to speak of the animals) have been treated over the years, but the firm's public relations problems began in 2004 when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a video showing animals in distress being slaughtered at the Postville plant. Two years later, the issues facing the workers became a concern in the Jewish community. On May 26, 2006, The Jewish Daily Forward published a scathing editorial:

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