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March 23, 2011

Congressman probes "Muslim radicalization" not Islamophobia

The Canadian Charger

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The United States, with its fixed election dates every two years, seems to have an election campaign underway at all times. If, for example, someone is thinking of running for a Senate seat in Nov. 2012, he must start early in 2011.

It’s a system that can encourage grandstanding, demagoguery, and the fomenting of division to score political points. Stoking the fires of the “culture wars” can be effective politics, but it makes for lousy governance.

Especially in times of a deep fear of economic decline - that most Americans are not yet ready to face up to - unscrupulous politicians transpose that economic fear onto the loss of traditions and onto the unfamiliar people and customs that have started to move into the neighbourhood.

New York Representative Peter King became chair of the Committee on Homeland Security when the Republicans gained majority status in the House in the Nov. 2010 election.

As chairman, he lost no time in setting up a charade that would get him noticed and would reinforce the most fearful Americans in their prejudices: he would hold a series of Congressional hearings into “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response”.

The mere statement of the premise prejudges the conclusion.

Mr. King didn’t invent anti-Muslim bigotry, but he’s riding a cresting wave. A group called The Clarion Fund, for example, paid to insert millions of DVDs of the film Obsession in newspapers in swing states in 2008. (Where did the money come from for that?)

The film claims that the US is at war with Islam worldwide and that Muslims are infiltrating US school boards and government bodies – and of course the wish to build a mosque near Ground Zero is especially sinister.

Mosques and mosque construction sites in Texas, California, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Washington DC have been vandalized.

In New York an attacker yelled “terrorist" and urinated on a prayer rug.

Television preacher Pat Robertson teaches that Islam is not a "real" religion; it is an international conspiracy of conquest.

David Hunt of the Berean Call teaches that Muslims worship a moon-god.

A nun in Long Island – Peter King’s own congressional district – writes, “Today, a toxic climate of Islamophobia stigmatizes Muslims. Many women on Long Island, who because of their faith wear the hijab, are afraid to go to the grocery store alone.

Muslim children in a local school were shunned by students.” A NY cab driver was slashed across the neck and face by a customer when he said that he was a Muslim.

But if Mr. King hoped to put on a spectacle of Islamophobia by his brief hearings on March 10, they did not yield the outcome he expected.

For one thing, he did not call any law enforcement witnesses to testify in favour of his claim that the Muslim community is unco-operative in tracking down terrorists.

But his Democrat opponents on the committee did – Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Baca testified that the national Sheriffs’ association has good relations with the Muslim community, that most terror plots since 9/11 have been by non-Muslims, and those that were by Muslims were mostly discovered and foiled by the Muslim community itself. Inconvenient facts.

To add to Peter King’s consternation, the most dramatic witness of the day was Democrat Congressman Keith Ellison, himself a Muslim, who wept as he told of a Muslim NYC police cadet who was a first responder on 9/11 – Salman Hamdani. Because of his Muslim name, police questioned his mother about his activities, until eventually his remains were discovered in the rubble of the North Tower, holding his EMT medical bag.

In Chairman King’s defense, perhaps a couple of points need to be pondered.

One blogger pointed out that even though the number of terror plots by Muslim Americans is tiny; the number is still disproportionately high for their population. If that is so, the Homeland Security committee does have a role to play.

Dr. Ingrid Mattson, past president of ISNA, writes, “I spent hundreds of hours in meetings discussing [the terror threat], not only with other Muslim leaders in the United States and internationally, but with members of the US Congress, officials in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Justice. … Would it have been more effective to put less time into refuting the terrorists' message and more time building our youth programs and services on the local levels? These are serious questions that deserve serious examination.”

Who is not working together, Mr. King?

Something that may also be a cause of suspicion in a country of mainly Christian background is this. Islam does not separate “church” and state, but aims for cohesion of religion and politics.

The United States has a very opposite view of this matter: the First Amendment to the Constitution forbids the establishment of any religion by the government.

This issue needs an airing by Muslim intellectuals. When living in America, does one forget about the restoration of the Caliphate, and focus on religion as it pertains to personal and family and community life? In practical terms, every Muslim you meet is doing just that.

But maybe it isn’t being articulated.

Does one park one’s belief in theocracy at the immigration wicket? If not, how can it be honestly lived out in a country formally committed to secularism? One’s neighbours have a right to ask this question. But not to ask it in the destructive way that Chairman King is doing, with blame and innuendo and rabble-rousing for political gain.

What has been most heartening about this episode is the way Americans have rallied to support their Muslim neighbours.

In New York City, a few days before the congressional hearings, 300 people gathered in the rain with placards saying, “Today I am a Muslim Too.”

American Jewish leaders began a petition against Islamophobia, noting, “As Jews, these attacks sound all too familiar to us.” A new interfaith initiative has been launched called Shoulder to Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims.  

In 1790 George Washington wrote to a Jewish group in Rhode Island:

“The Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of all of the inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

May it be so Insha`Allah

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M. Elmasry

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