It is a nightmare for an entire religious tradition to be put on the stand as a collective for the actions of an extreme few. It is worse still when the extreme few are such a miniscule fraction of the population. In spite of mounting evidence that Muslim Americans are excelling at collaboration with American law enforcement and widely condemning terrorism, United States Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, seeks to hold hearings about why Muslim Americans are undergoing supposed radicalisation.
If they move forward, as King has repeatedly stated they will, these hearings will allow political grandstanding to become a precedent for fighting terrorism. Internationally, they may create tension in strategic diplomatic relationships between the United States and Muslim-majority countries and lend credence to the heretofore inaccurate voices that claim the US government is Islamophobic. Even more troubling, these hearings may spawn the very sort of suspicion between individual Muslim Americans and government officials that they nominally seek to investigate.
In short, the hearings are ill advised, morally debasing and damaging to the United States both domestically and overseas.
In an interview with Fox News last December, King explained why he is so committed to holding the hearings:
“We have to break through this politically correct nonsense which keeps us from debating and discussing what I think is one of the most vitally important issues in this country. We are under siege by Muslim terrorists and yet there are Muslim leaders in this country who do not cooperate with law enforcement.”
There are always unsavoury characters in any large community, but King singles out the Muslim community and overlooks the vast majority of Muslim Americans who are upstanding citizens.
To name just the first Muslim leaders who come to mind (and who I am fortunate to call colleagues), Imam Khalid Latif, Chaplain at New York University, is himself a uniformed member of the New York Police Department; Imam Yahya Hendi, Chaplain at Georgetown University, was honoured by the FBI for his leadership in enhancing relations with law enforcement officials; and Imam Abdullah Antepli, Chaplain and Adjunct Faculty Member at Duke University, has become so widely respected for his work with government leaders that he was asked to deliver an opening prayer at the US House of Representatives last march. These are but three of the numerous Muslim leaders who collaborate actively with law enforcement and publicly and privately condemn terrorism.
New statistics released this month by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security further contravene King’s claims. Take the most obvious example from the study: “Eleven Muslim Americans have successfully executed terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11, killing 33 people. This is about 3 deaths per year.” By contrast, “There have been approximately 150,000 murders in the United States since 9/11.” Terrorism is heinous and must be stopped. But it is important to also be aware of its relative infrequency.
Furthermore, the study notes, “Tips from the Muslim American community provided the source of information that led to a terrorist plot being thwarted in 48 of 120 cases involving Muslim Americans.” Based on these nationwide statistics, rather than King’s rhetoric, the apt question is how to expand upon the already successful collaboration between Muslim Americans and law enforcement officials.
Even if King’s claims had merit, public congressional hearings would be the wrong strategy for fighting terrorism. In fact, they would unfairly single out the Muslim American community and potentially alienate those who would otherwise come forward.
The hearings must be stopped before they subject Muslim Americans to potential humiliation and undermine their extant collaboration with American law enforcement officials. Religious Freedom USA, a movement of Americans dedicated to religious freedom in America, recently launched a campaign to prevent the hearings, and a coalition of 50 non-profit organisations reached out to congressional leaders in the hope of pre-empting them. But more political pressure is needed in order to prevent these misguided hearings.
Unless the hearings are cancelled, they may do lasting harm not only to the image of Muslim Americans but of King’s own high office.
Joshua Stanton is Co-Founder of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and Religious Freedom USA, and a Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).