Singling out one faith affects them all
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?
It is always a threat to religious liberty for government to single out a particular faith for investigation - not just for the group investigated, but for everyone. It sets a dangerous precedent whose effect goes beyond the targeted religion.
Of course, religion is sometimes the impetus for acts of terrorism. History is replete with examples of atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of a particular faith -- be it Islam, Christianity or others. A sweeping general equation of terrorism within Islam -- or any religion -- is as disingenuous as it is dangerous.
In the case of Rep. Peter King's upcoming hearings, it will glean very little useful information to fight terrorism, but at the least will play on wide-spread misunderstanding and stereotyping of Islam and encourage the American public to view extremist outliers of Islam as typical of the entire faith.
This suggestion that terrorist threats to the American people result from Muslims is an insult to millions of peace-loving Muslim American citizens. I know a little of how this feels when last week the case of Westboro Baptist Church -- peddling its hellish brand of rhetorical terrorism -- was in the news. The church and the Phelps family are thought by many to characterize all Baptists. I had to remind some of my friends as well as the media that Roger Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jimmy Carter are more typical of Baptists than is Rev. Phelps.
The evidence suggests that a very small minority of Muslim -- and even fewer American Muslims -- sympathize with terrorism. Indeed, most Muslims in this country and most Mosques are not only a force for moderation but a source of information that actually counters Islamic terrorism. Mr. King's broad brush could paint them into a corner where, feeling threatened, become less cooperative and forthcoming. So, to impugn the patriotism and good faith of this sizable community is not only a threat to their liberty and ours, but actually could be counter-productive in resisting terrorism.
In sum, the King hearings likely will go forward Thursday. I only wish he would investigate terrorism across the board, as the Congress has the right to do, not to impugn one religion - especially when that religion, Islam, is so misunderstood in our culture today.
J. Brent Walker
March 8, 2011; 10:28 AM ET
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