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Friday, April 22, 2011

Islamophobia and the etymological roots of the King hearings, part I: The premises and implications of the King hearings

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Islamophobia in America. Part II discusses the emerging semantics of Islam and Muslims in the West. Part III examines Islamophobic language trends in major English and Arabic media outlets and their implications for public policy.

Nazir Harb, MPA

Despite opposition from the Obama administration and a wide array of American minority groups, especially major Arab-American and American Muslim organizations, on March 10th the House Committee on Homeland Security convened a hearing entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” It was truly a tragic event in our nation’s history but unfortunately only the beginning of a year-long series of hearings that attempt to put Islam and Muslims on trial. The next hearing is supposed to take place in the next few weeks. Representative Peter King (R-NY), who chairs the committee and is the driving force behind the hearings, has been rather enigmatic about the exact dates of these show trials.

The title of King’s hearings is telling in and of itself, as it reveals the innate biases of the Congressman and his witnesses. The hearings attempt to legitimize a premise that is not only baseless and untrue, but also brazenly racist, prejudicial, and provocative. They antagonize a susceptible, peaceful community that constitutes a diverse multi-national and multi-cultural American minority with a longstanding history of contributions to the United States and the world.

Obama administration officials have stressed that the hearings are condemnable and that their premise must be amended to investigate radicalization in America in general as a phenomenon independent of Islam or Muslims. Instead, the hearings present a forgone conclusion damning an American minority without so much as giving it the opportunity to speak for itself. Indeed, during the first hearing, each of the speakers was well-known for harboring and fomenting Islamophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments (save Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim congressman from Minnesota). Their testimonies that day predictably served King’s fear-mongering and self-aggrandizing political agenda. While some of King’s witnesses were “practicing Muslims” who admittedly had very negative—but undoubtedly unrepresentative—experiences with Islam and Muslims inside or outside of the US, their testimonies thus far have supported the sort of abominable and unwarranted claims that Rep. King has recently made, such as that “85% of mosques in America are ruled by the extremists.” To quote King, who has faced relatively little castigation for such statements, his hearings are meant to demonstrate that Muslims in the United States are “an enemy living amongst us.”

Notably, countless American Muslims and non-Muslims who have requested to testify, including specialists who would represent the counterargument to these allegations and provide for real debate on the topic, have been declined the right to testify. There could therefore be no doubt that these hearings are political show trials which target a vulnerable minority that is politically difficult to defend in public. Fortunately at least Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) had the fortitude to use his own bully pulpit for such a noble purpose and convened a Senate hearing on March 29th on threats to American Muslim civil rights.

Sadly such mistrust and public aspersions on the loyalty of American citizens is not without precedent in our recent history. These events recall the regrettable and horrific treatment of Japanese Americans following the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. True, these hearings don’t rise to the level of mass internment (though something of the sort did take place immediately following 9/11), but we cannot stand by as another American minority is profiled, singled out, and blamed for a foreign attack. American Muslims have begun protests and educational programs to emphasize that this is a critical matter of civil rights which concerns every American, and is not what Rep. King has characterized as strictly a “Muslim problem.” Attorney General Eric Holder is right to assert that anti-Muslim bigotry is “the civil rights issue of our time.”

Get involved! Please sign our petition to stop the targeting of American Muslims:

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