Peter King, your hearings aren't just bigoted. They're making things worse.
The controversial hearings on homegrown terrorism within American Muslim communities are more than shameful bigotry; they're counterproductive. They don't address root causes of radical Islam and alienate rather than engage key allies in the fight against extremism: American Muslims.
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Bigotry alienates, not engages
While both the Bush and Obama administrations have gone to great lengths to defend Muslim Americans as patriotic citizens, 9/11 re-legitimized the once-discredited practice of racial profiling. In the 1990s, racial profiling had largely been dismissed as an inefficient, ineffective, and unfair policy that George W. Bush had openly condemned. But after 9/11, there was a new public consensus that racial profiling was essential for the nation’s survival.Skip to next paragraph
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In the wake of 9/11, Gallup polls found that one-third of New Yorkers supported the internment of Arab Americans and that even the majority of African Americans surveyed (71 percent) supported the racial profiling of Arabs. A 2006 Gallup poll showed that 39 percent of Americans believe all Muslims, even US citizens, should be forced to carry special identification cards.
Clearly, such anti-Muslim sentiments have not abated over time, evinced by the grass-roots opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in 2010. The protests devolved into a campaign against mosques throughout the country, in red states and blue states, in cities and small towns. Recently, more than a dozen states have introduced or approved measures to “ban sharia.” Republican Tennessee state Senator Bill Ketron claims his proposed “sharia ban” is “a powerful counter-terrorism tool.” However, the language of his bill is so sweeping and so misguided about what sharia is and is not, that, if passed, it would essentially make it a felony to be a devout Muslim in Tennessee.
If King and other officials are genuinely concerned about preventing homegrown terrorism, they might consider the anti-Muslim climate they are perpetuating and do a bit of homework. Recent reports from the CIA and the NYPD indicate that two of the very few traits that Muslim “homegrown terrorists” share is a sense of moral outrage over the suffering of Muslims worldwide and a personal experience of discrimination and social alienation. If there are disaffected Muslim American youth who are susceptible to extremism, King’s hearings and the “sharia bans” are likely to aggravate, not alleviate, their alienation.
Diverts energy from combatting homegrown terror
Furthermore, this hostile political climate undermines Muslim community-based efforts to combat homegrown extremism by diverting precious energies and resources away from intra-community challenges toward shielding against external pressures, such as Islamophobic hearings and legislation.
Recently, the Muslim Public Affairs Council produced a counter-terrorism YouTube video featuring the who’s who of American imams condemning terrorism and absolving Islam of any association with it. The video, “Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice,” has a reasonable message, but an apolitical tone. Although it purports to be addressing disaffected Muslim youth, the video’s real audience seems to be non-Muslims. American Muslims have upheld their responsibility to combat extremism, but they need to take the political grievances of disaffected youth more seriously.
Ultimately, the most powerful counterterrorism strategy has come not from Capitol Hill but from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. The peaceful protests in the Middle East have demonstrated that global Muslim suffering is real and that its source is political, not religious. More important, those demonstrations prove that Muslim youth in the Middle East – and the US – can work for social justice and civil rights successfully, like American minorities before them, armed with patience and courage, rather than weapons.
Zareena Grewal is an assistant professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University and director of the Center for the Study of American Muslims at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.