Thursday, March 10, 2011

Peter King, Islamic Terror and Islamophobia

Brad Hirschfield.Rabbi, Author and Expert on Religion and Public Life
.Peter King, Islamic Terror and Islamophobia

With Rep. Peter King beginning hearings Thursday, hearings that will examine the issue of radicalization within the American Muslim community, two things should be stated very clearly: Islamic terror is real and so is Islamophobia. Denying the former is a deadly error, but addressing that real and pressing problem in no way necessitates or justifies the latter.

These hearings, if conducted properly, could surface both of those realities, which are rarely acknowledged in the same places and at the same time. Too often, in my own experience with religious and communal leaders in both the American Muslim community and in the community at large, those who are prepared to deal with the problem of Islamic terror, minimize or altogether ignore the ugliness of Islamophobia, while those who would have us focus on combating hatred of Muslims, downplay the linkage between Islam and terror in the world today.

What we need are people who have the bravery, honesty and compassion to address both at the same time. At the very least, it would be helpful if those lining up on both sides of these hearings would focus our attention on that challenge rather than simply defending King, who has said any number of outrageous things about Muslims and Islam, or suggesting that these hearings are simply an excuse for whipping up hatred against Muslims.

While it's certainly true that these hearings could become the "witch hunt" about which some are concerned, the claim that merely holding the hearings constitutes an Islamophobic hunt is inappropriate. Not to mention that not holding such hearings because we fear what they may become places those who take that view in the same boat with those who fear pretty much all Muslims because of the fear of what they may become.

As is so often the case, in politics as in life, those most opposed to each other are very much alike. In this case, each mobilizes around a fear of what might be, rather than calmly addressing something that actually is.
Raising questions, however uncomfortable, does not constitute bias against the group to whom those questions are addressed, but it does make demands upon those who raise the questions. They will have to prove that their interest lies not in showing how a particular faith community is inherently dangerous or problematic. They will have to demonstrate a willingness not only to see radicalization about which they are concerned, but also to see where it is absent and the extent to which the fight against it from inside the Muslim community has been successful.

If these hearing proceed properly, many people whose knee-jerk reaction is to defend Islam and Muslims as a group, will find themselves uncomfortable, and so will those people who believe that to see any Muslim is to see a threat, rather than simply seeing a fellow American who happens to be Muslim. If the overly simplistic picture typically portrayed by one side or the other is simply confirmed, then Rep. King will have failed and should be held accountable for his failure.

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