Rep. Peter King's hearings on what his website calls "al-Qaeda's coordinated radicalization and recruitment of people within the American Muslim community," begin on Thursday. The destructive, demagogic potential of these hearings has been widely noted. Yesterday both people in the streets, and people in the White House expressed their concerns about King's plans.
The Associated Press reports:
Some 300 people gathered in Times Square on Sunday to speak out against a planned congressional hearing on Muslim terrorism, criticizing it as xenophobic and saying that singling out Muslims, rather than extremists, is unfair.
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and the imam who had led an effort to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site were among those who addressed the crowd.
"Our real enemy is not Islam or Muslims," said the imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf. "The enemy is extremism and radicalism and radical ideology."
Politico has the story from inside the Beltway:
As a House committee prepares to turn the spotlight on Al Qaeda’s efforts to radicalize Muslims in America, the White House issued a public plea Sunday to focus on the American Muslim community’s support for anti-terrorism efforts and to avoid stigmatizing law-abiding followers of Islam.
“We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few,” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told a crowd gathered in a gymnasium and prayer room at a mosque in northern Virginia.
“In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association. And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with each of us. “
At The Washington Post's On Faith Professor John Esposito of Georgetown University writes that King has been making scapegoats of Muslim Americans for years:
Peter King blatantly ignores statements by key government officials like FBI Director Robert S Mueller III and US Attorney General Eric H Holder, and Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, who each praise the Muslim American community for playing an instrumental role in assisting law enforcement agencies. At last report, King won't be calling any law enforcement officials, non-government experts or leaders in the Muslim American community. Instead, reports say that he will opt for non-experts, three witnesses who have no expertise in terrorism or homeland security, and anecdotal evidence.
And writing for USA Today, David Gushee of Mercer University says:
It is always a very dangerous thing when one group is singled out in front of the rest. It is humiliating, shaming and stigmatizing, and almost invites average citizens to marginalize and mistreat members of the targeted group. When religion is involved, and a minority religious group to boot, the danger grows exponentially.
These hearings might intensify fear, hatred and mistreatment of Muslims. Some Christian leaders are already succumbing, such as former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who recently described Muslims collectively as people who believe that "Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated."
I fear that the tolerance and restraint generally shown by Americans after the 9/11 attacks is fraying, and that anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence will intensify in the wake of the King hearings.
King defended the hearings on CNN's State of the Nation yesterday.
Defending himself against criticism that he is scapegoating a religious community and ignoring threats from other extremists, King said that U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "is not saying he's staying awake at night because of what's coming from anti-abortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from Neo-Nazis. It's the radicalization right now in the Muslim community."
Is it possible that these hearings will have a useful outcome, or are they likely to cultivate fear, as critics claim? What would a useful outcome look like?