Rep. King's hearing is the wrong answer to the wrong question
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will begin holding hearings Thursday on "the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims." Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has characterized the hearings as "a witch hunt." Are they?
King also has said he believes the "self-radicalization" of American Muslims represents "a very small minority" of the overall community. What are the potential consequences of singling out one religious group?
By singling out one particular religious community for investigation, Representative King's hearings fly in the face of religious freedom as it is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. These hearings are not only the wrong answer to the wrong question, but in the end, they may only perpetuate the problems the Homeland Security Committee seeks to solve, as well as add to a disturbing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment extant in America today.
Freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment protects the freedom of all Americans to believe in any religious faith, as they choose, without fear of criticism, retribution, or investigation because of it. In our nation, all people and all faiths are equal with none favored over any other. The fact that Muslims in this country are taking full advantage of all clauses of the First Amendment does not make them inherently any more radical than any other religious community in this country. They have the right to practice their faith, they have the right to speak freely - even if it is to raise concerns about government policy - and they have the right to practice those freedoms while assembled together. These freedoms are an integral part of American democracy.
There is no doubt that our nation faces serious threats to its security both at home and abroad, but the continued demonization of Muslims and questioning of the Muslim faith is not the answer. I fear that this approach is misguided and will only result in further alienating the American Muslim community. Terrorism is a real threat that requires serious investigation based on fact. At the same time, conducting hearings into what is being presented as a major trend of "radicalization" in the Muslim community that leads to violence, when there is little to no evidence to support that claim, is also a real threat. Posing questions like "whether the American Muslim community is becoming radicalized" or "whether the American Muslim community is cooperating with law enforcement" has the dangerous potential to intensify, rather than to lessen, prejudice toward Muslims and puts an unjustifiably greater responsibility on Muslim Americans to help root out terrorism than is placed on Americans of other faiths and belief systems.
There exists in our country today a pervasive and unsettling trend of anti-Muslim fear, bigotry and rhetoric and a general lack of understanding of the real differences between Islamic extremists who commit acts of terrorism and non-violent adherents to Islam. Targeting one particular faith for scrutiny when the overwhelming majority of that faith's adherents in this country are peaceful, law-abiding citizens seems counterproductive and just plain wrong. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to promote reason, truth and civility in the public forum-- especially at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise--not to waste time and public resources on victimizing select groups.
My work at Interfaith Alliance is driven by the fundamental principle that protecting religious freedom is most critical in times of crisis and controversy. Even the most basic knowledge of the history of the First Amendment includes the understanding that religious freedom exists in part to protect the rights of the minority from what Alexis de Tocqueville not unrealistically called the tyranny of the majority. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that if our Founding Fathers had relied on polling data, the First Amendment might not exist at all. Unfortunately, in today's political climate, it may not ensure an "electoral win" to defend the rights of the American Muslim community, but there is no question that it is the right thing to do.
Posted by: DueCarnage | March 9, 2011 7:04 PM
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