The Congressional Hearings on Muslims in America

I read a story on the congressional hearings on Muslims in America that are planned by Rep. Peter King (R-NY).  I have a real problem with these hearings.  Not that there aren’t radical Muslims here that wish America ill, but there are many other people who wish us ill, too.  At best, these hearings are myopic.  At worst, they’re a calculated attempt to smear an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.  And there are some real constitutional issues here, too.

The first thing that jumps out is the First Amendment.  Congress has absolutely no business sticking its nose into religion in any way.  Singling out one group whose common characteristic is religion is wrong and can’t be allowed to pass without comment.

Many people are commenting, of course.

Eugene Robinson:

King has decided to investigate Islam.

A Republican from Long Island in his 10th term, King seems untroubled that the freedoms of religion and association are guaranteed by the Constitution. His public exercise in Islamophobia, scheduled to begin Thursday, can do no good – and much harm.

The legitimate-sounding goal of this exercise, King explained Sunday on CNN, is to investigate “self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community” and the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism. Who doesn’t want to uncover al-Qaeda sleeper cells? Who doesn’t want to do everything that is possible – and legal – to prevent terrorist attacks?

But King further alleges that Muslim Americans have failed to demonstrate “sufficient cooperation” with law enforcement in uncovering potential terrorist plots. With this libel, King casts doubt on the loyalties of millions of Americans solely because of their faith. This is religious persecution – and it’s un-American and wrong.

Richard Cohen:

King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. On Thursday, he will inaugurate hearings into something or other. Their official title is “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” The last part – “that community’s response” – is already clear when it comes to King. The Muslim American community has taken umbrage and has demonstrated its outrage in, among other places, King’s Long Island district. King thinks it is being overly sensitive.

King is setting a dangerous precedent. The government has no business examining any peaceful religious group because a handful of adherents have broken the law. If it did, it would be past time to look into the Roman Catholic Church, which clearly was – or maybe still is – concealing the sex crimes of priests and others. The organization BishopAccountability.org reports that “perhaps more than 100,000 children” have been sexually abused since 1950 by Catholic clergymen of one sort or another. Nearly 6,000 priests have been accused of abuse – 5.3 percent of the total active in that period. Almost none of them had a day in court, and in many cases their crimes were covered up and the offenders allowed to go on their merry way.

Congress, though, has not investigated the church, and you can bet your 401(k) it will not. The church is politically powerful and, anyway, we have a very fine tradition in this country of government keeping its nose out of religion.

In the case of the Muslim American community, there is no evidence of any centralized conspiracy involving terrorism or that Muslims are any less appalled and opposed to terrorism than non-Muslims. Not a single government official has suggested otherwise and whatever (insignificant) information is produced by these hearings will be hugely offset by the comfort they provide anti-Muslim bigots. A political insane asylum has formed in America organized around the mad conviction that President Obama is a Muslim and not therefore a real American.

This is the real damage King does. Inherent in his rhetoric and his insistence on holding his hearings is the insinuation that Islam is not American. This, of course, is what some people once thought of Roman Catholicism. The aptly named Know Nothing movement of the mid-19th century was organized around such sentiment.

Terrorism remains a threat and there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism – or, to put it another way, terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. In this country, much of the internal threat comes from a very small number of addled young men whose incompetence is often just plain awe-inspiring. They no more represent the American Muslim community than some randy priest does Peter King. As low as the standard is, Congress has better things to do.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA):

[S]omething similarly sinister is returning to our country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is organizing congressional hearings on Muslim Americans. These hearings are scheduled to take place within the House Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. By framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion.

This should be deeply troubling to Americans of all races and religions. An investigation specifically targeting a single religion implies, erroneously, a dangerous disloyalty, with one broad sweep of the discriminatory brush.

This is an extremely dangerous precedent.  Singling out a group of people is wrong on so many levels that I don’t really know where to start.  There’s religion and constitutionality.  This reminds me of McCarthyism and the search for activities that he (Senator McCarthy) deemed un-American in some way.  Peter King seems to be doing the same thing with his investigation into Islam.  Cohen is right in his view that this will provide a huge amount of fodder for the bigots in our country.  They don’t need any more excuses.  No one denies that radical Islam exists.  But there are radical groups all over the country that need to be looked at.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to investigate domestic terrorism.  But when you pin it all on one group, that’s a problem.  Who’s next, if this is allowed to stand?  Jews?  Gays?  Roman Catholics?  We’ve seen the slippery slope in our country with McCarthy’s excesses.  History repeats itself over and over.  It can’t be allowed to again in this case.

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3 comments
  1. Alan said:

    I think his next hearings should be on the Southern Baptists, and the fact that some of them have joined the terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan.

    • I didn’t even mention King’s ties to the IRA, another terrorist organization. The post was getting pretty long, so something had to be left out.

  2. Montana said:

    Why doesn’t this Peter T. King investigate the “Home Grown” radicalization of Irish Americans, who support the tradition wing of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), or Noraid (The Irish Northern Aid Committee), and being recruited by “Enemy Overseas” or worse “Enemy Overseas” the “Catholic Church ”, where their priests have rape our young American boys, what about that you hypocrite scumbag.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-march-8-2011/peter-king-wants-to-investigate-any-american-muslim-who-is-not-actively-stopping-terrorist-plots-

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