Investigating Religions: Congress, Muslims, and Terror

Rep. Peter King, on alert

I’m deeply troubled by the hearings in the House of Representatives that opened today, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”  Initiated by Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, it’s hard to ignore the not quite implicit racism inherent.

It’s not that groups or individuals willing to use violence to advance their political goals aren’t a relevant concern–for Congress or for the rest of us–but this effort seems misspecified (targeted at the Muslim community in the United States, almost all of whom, according to Rep. King, do not support terror.)

From the start, even Rep. King’s commitment to stopping terror is undermined by his own past, as a supporter of the Irish Republican Army, as the New York Times reports:

We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

King’s past suggests that he is more concerned with causes than tactics, which makes the hearings seem targeted much more at American Muslims more than at terror.

Even more than that, focusing on the broad and diverse communities of American Muslims is an extraordinarily inefficient way of going after terrorists.  Neither the House of Representatives nor the state of Kansas held hearings on radicalism within Christianity when the professed Christian Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions, in Tiller’s church.  Of course, most Christians aren’t murderers.  But those few lunatics who murder doctors often claim Christianity.

If the idea of investigating Christianity in response seems ridiculous, why is Islam different?

And as Americans, we have a long history in which ethnic, racial, and religious groups have been scapegoated and demonized.  I would have thought that we would learn from our past, but people learn odd lessons:

In supporting King’s efforts, Ed Koch, former Congressman and Mayor of New York, compared the hearings to the investigations (and internment) of Japanese Americans during World War II:

Congressman King is now seeking to protect America and the Muslim American community.  How?  By holding hearings on whether or not the American Muslim community is becoming radicalized and giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies.

Remember, we are at war with Islamic terrorists who, according to the U.S. government, have Al-Qaeda cells at work in 62 countries.  Islamic terrorists have made it clear that they want to kill Americans – men, women, and children.  If the hearings establish that the American Muslim community, like the Japanese American community during World War II, is devoted and loyal to the U.S., wouldn’t that be of enormous assistance in protecting members of the American Muslim community from the charges that have been made against them?

Eventually, the United States apologized for investigating  and interning Japanese Americans during World War II, as we’ve discussed.  Fred Korematsu, who unsuccessfully challenged internment, saw the parallels between the wartime frenzy that put Japanese Americans in concentration camps and the post-9/11 stigmatization of American Muslims.

Protest in Times Square

Five hundred people protested against the  King hearings in Times Square, and there were other assemblies across the country.  From  Arab

Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered together in the rain to brand the hearings a witch-hunt, waved signs and chant: “Shame, Shame, Pete King!”

“Today I am a Muslim, too,” said Rabbi March Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.  Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is a co-founder of Islamic community center mosque near Ground Zero, also addressed the crowd.

We really don’t have to keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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