Peter King and Other Islamophobes
On Feb 10, NY Rep. Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held his first in a series of hearings over the "Radicalization of American Muslims" and what to do about it. Despite numerous voices urging the Republican from NY to broaden the scope of his probe into homegrown extremism and terrorism, King was undeterred, saying: "To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee -- to protect America from a terrorist attack."
Most analysis of the hearing has concluded that nothing new was learned, and some have called it "political theater." Rep. King has promised more hearings, and most American Muslims are bracing for more negative news in the months and years to come. Although King has never advocated hatred of Muslims, his lumping of the entire American Muslim community with the acts of a few terrorists (161 since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a University of North Carolina study) many American Muslims fear King will play right into the hands of those trying to demonize the entire community.
Indeed, there has been a steady and troubling growth of anti-Muslim hatred and fear ever since September 11, and it appears to have accelerated in the last few years. All across the country, people with clear anti-Muslim bias and even overt hatred are being proffered as “experts” on Islam. They are members of panel discussions on Islam; they appear on television programs; they are guests on radio shows; they even are recruited to teach college courses on Islam. All this despite their obvious anti-Islamic agenda.
It is imperative to see through the agenda of Rep. King and the other Islamophobic "experts." If Mr. King were truly serious about the threat of violent extremism against the United States, he would have also examined the threat from right-wing groups whose rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been meteoric since the election of President Obama. In its Spring 2011 report, the SPLC states that the number of hate groups in the United States is over 1,000, a 7.5% increase from 2009. Moreover, according to a UNC study, there were more than 30 domestic terror plots in 2010; only ten were committed by Muslims. Thus, to focus solely on the Muslim threat, to the exclusion of all others, is playing politics in the worst manner ahead of the 2012 election cycle.
As for the Islamophobes posing as experts, many of them do not have even a cursory knowledge or understanding of the Arabic language, which is critical given that the sacred text of Islam is in Arabic. These “experts” continue to peddle old and tired Orientalist claims against Islam, the Qur’an, and the Prophet Muhammad and yet are not called out on it. These “experts” are open in their guile for Islam, yet they are still requested to speak about Islam and Muslims. They are either in it for self-promotion and enrichment, or are part of a concerted effort to disenfranchise the American Muslim community, again for short-term political gain. Contrary to their claims, the good of the country is not in their interest at all.
As I watched part of the King hearing, it was very disheartening and saddening to see the American Muslim community -- my community -- singled out as the cause of violent extremism and homegrown terrorism. Seeing and reading about the numerous attacks against Muslims and their houses of worship, despite the fact that they have nothing to do with terrorism, serves to dishearten me as well. But, I am not giving up on America that easily. My country is much better than the ignorant acts of a few of my fellow Americans. My people, the American people, are much better than the crimes of a tiny minority. I know that American Muslims will come to be seen as part of the American family. The sooner that happens, the better it will be for the country and the world.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Last Prophet in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).
Copyright © 2011 Hesham A. Hassaballa -- distributed by Agence Global