Muslim family grapples with growing Islamophobia

14-year-old Salim Sbenaty pledges allegiance in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
14-year-old Salim Sbenaty pledges allegiance in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
CBS News

Murfreesboro, Tenn. - Every morning at his Murfreesboro middle school, 14-year-old Salim Sbenaty honors his country by pledging allegiance to the flag.

But Thursday, while he was taking his English exam, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were examining extremists within his religion - Islam.

"We're not some crazy radicals," Salim said. "We're regular people - we're like the average Joes."

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane, interviewing the Sbenaty family Thursday, said, "These hearings on Capitol Hill aren't targeting you, your family really - are they?"

"Well, well in a sense they are," replied Salim's 21-year-old sister Dima. "You know, they're associating the religion with terrorism."

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There are one of about 250 Muslim families in this town of 100,000. They say they've lived here in peace for decades, until last year - when the proposed expansion of their mosque inflamed emotions.

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It was last fall, as controversy also swirled around the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, that CBS News first visited the Sbenaty family.

Have things gotten any better?

"I wish," Salim's father Saleh said. "It's like a roller coaster ride, unfortunately."

Two Tennessee lawmakers recently introduced a bill that criminalizes some aspects of "Sharia," or Islamic law.

"Can you understand how some Americans would be scared, would be fearful of Islamic radicals?" Doane asked.

"I do. I'm afraid of radicals," Salim said. "I mean everybody should be afraid of radicals but we've got to understand that my religion, Islam, has nothing to do with these people - they've convoluted it."

In the Sbenaty family, today's congressional hearings simply fueled fatigued.

"What else can you do," Saleh asked. "What else can you say?"

A lot has been said, but both sides may be wondering if the other side is listening.