Peter King’s Congressional hearing into the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism begins tomorrow. The hearings are controversial before they start.
President Obama’s deputy national security adviser visited a mosque on Sunday explaining, “we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few.” Congress’s only Muslim representative also objects to the hearings. It is wrong for Congress to investigate a particular religious group, he says. Don’t focus on only one group.
Rep. King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, doesn’t see it that way. Absolute nonsense, he says. “The threat is coming from the Muslim community,” he said.
He is right, in a way. The most likely source of a significant terrorist attack in the US is from fanatics who are Muslims. But there are also terrorists who are Christians (as were the IRA in Northern Ireland, whose political arm King supported). There have been Hindu and Buddhist terrorists, as well. However, the main threat against America does come from those who claim to be carrying out their duties as Muslims.
King said, “ . . . when we were going after the Mafia, we looked at the Italian community.” The hearings King referred to were actually hearings into organized crime. Many, if not most, mobsters were Italian, but Congress didn’t look into the Italian community, bringing priests into Congressional hearings to find out if they were sufficiently denouncing the mob. And during the height of the second Red Scare in the late 1940s and 1950s, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of giving atomic secrets to the Soviets, Congress didn’t look into the Jewish community (tempting as this may have been for Joe McCarthy who belonged to a Church that had not yet renounced its view of the collective guilt of Jews for the death of Christ), although many Jews supported left-wing politics.
It is hard to know what is on King’s mind. Before 9/11 he was a good friend of the Islamic Center of Long Island. He helped cut the ribbon when the mosque was opened. He attended the wedding of the son of ICLI’s first president. But he is a friend no longer. He no longer attends the mosque functions and has denounced the first president.
It is a pity, for in my view the ICLI is precisely what you would want from a mosque. Its membership is from many countries, it is involved in many community and charitable programs, and it is a good and considerate neighbor. There is mixed-sex seating in all but prayer services. They even invited me several years ago to speak to them about raising moral children. Instead of cultivating ICLI, it has alienated them. I have been to a Friday service and listened to the imam’s sermon and I personally know the first and former presidents of ICLI.
When Congress chooses to investigate communities of people, it is bad for everyone. This is the kind of profiling that not only violates human dignity but also makes things worse, not better. It isn’t hard to imagine the resentment this will cause (has already caused) amongst American Muslims.
Terrorists should have no place in America and neither should there be a place for terrifying a religious community. Terrorism needs to be rooted out but so does scapegoating.
“King’s intent seems clear: to cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia,” says California Democratic congressman Michael Honda. I don’t think that is King’s intent but it may very well be the outcome. America has gone down this road before. Let’s not do it again. We’re better than that.