Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Congress Holds Hearings on Muslim Community

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Undoubtedly, our nation continues to face serious threats to its security both at home and abroad. However, the continued demonization of Muslims is not the answer and has the dangerous potential to intensify, rather than to lessen, prejudice and violence toward Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. Interfaith Alliance worked hard in the lead-up to the King hearing (as it came to be called) by participating in a diverse coalition of religious, national security, civil rights and civil liberties groups to counter the misinformation and fear mongering. Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance, lent his voice to the launch of a new online campaign, WhatUnites.Us, which focuses on exactly that – reminding Americans of all that we have in common. You can check out Rev. Gaddy’s message about that campaign here. Rev. Gaddy also submitted written testimony for the record of the hearing, which was distributed in advance to members of the committee to review as they prepared their own statements and testimony.

The hearing proved to be a frustrating-to-watch and partisan display – Republican members asserted rather vaguely that Muslims are becoming “radicalized” into committing acts of homegrown terror, while Democrats expressed outrage at such sweeping generalizations and demonization of the Muslim community as a whole. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to serve in Congress, provided poignant testimony when he shared the story of a 9/11 first responder who gave his life to save others – and whose credibility was attacked afterward, simply because of his Muslim faith.

Additionally, while Rep. King’s repeated statements about the Muslim community’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement led us to expect he would call on law enforcement and national security personnel to testify and provide justification for his claims, he failed to do so. The only law enforcement official who testified was in fact called as a witness by the committee’s minority members. Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca described his positive experiences working with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles. His comments underscored the unwarranted nature of the hearings and the unfair expectation that Muslim Americans should bear more responsibility than other citizens for recognizing and reporting terrorism.

Immediately after the King hearing, Interfaith Alliance and a new campaign for which we are proud to serve on the steering committee, Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, released a joint statement on Capitol Hill. Our statement, which was announced to the press in part by Rabbi Jack Moline, an Interfaith Alliance board member, called on Congress to take action “not against a single, unfairly maligned group, but against all forms of violence and extremism that endanger our security.” This multi-faith campaign against anti-Muslim bigotry is just getting started, and as our campaign ramps up over the course of the next year, we will keep you updated and help you learn how you can get involved. 

In contrast to the McCarthyesque tone of the King hearing, the Senate hearing proved that combating Islamophobia is not a completely partisan issue. This hearing gave necessary focus to how this national trend of anti-Muslim sentiment can have dangerous implications for religious freedom and national security. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reaffirmed the necessity of the hearing and reminded his colleagues and, by extension, the American people, “We must stand up for each other.” At a time when this issue seems to be an increasingly partisan one, it was particularly encouraging to hear Sen. Graham say that he “will try to do my part as a Republican to let my party and anyone listening know that I totally get it when it comes to freedom of religion and the ability to practice different faiths.” And as Sen. Durbin, the subcommittee’s chairman, reminded us, “Guilt by association is not the American way. And American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as every other American.” Interfaith Alliance also submitted testimony for the Durbin hearing, and we were honored when Sen. Durbin mentioned our organization by name during the hearing.

What’s next? Sadly, Rep. King has announced his intentions to hold a second hearing regarding the “radicalization” of American Muslims, as early as May, specifically on those who adopt such views while in prison, and possibly yet another hearing after that regarding the funding and construction of mosques. You can be sure we’ll be paying close attention and be ready to respond to attacks on the Muslim community –or on any other specific religious group –because attacks on one religious group’s integrity and its members’ ability to freely exercise their faith is cause for concern to all people of any faith. Additionally, as you may remember, just before the hearing, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced a Sense of Congress resolution which calls on our government to do more to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and ensure that its actions do not fuel misconceptions about and prejudices toward any faith community. Already, more than 5,000 Interfaith Alliance members have written their representatives in Congress to ask for their support of the resolution so far, and the resolution continues to gain support. If you haven’t yet written to your Representative about the resolution, please do so here

As Rev. Gaddy noted in his testimony, congressional hearings are just part of the “pervasive and unsettling trend of anti-Muslim fear, bigotry and rhetoric and a general lack of understanding about Islam” in our country today. Between the incendiary rhetoric all too common in our national dialogue, state-level fear mongering campaigns to effectively criminalize peaceful adherence to Islamic law, and local debates over the construction of mosques and community centers, it is apparent, in Rev. Gaddy’s words, “that those of us who stand up for the religious freedom of all faith communities have our work cut out for us.”