With Rep. Peter King beginning hearings tomorrow, March 10 — hearings which 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 both religious and communal leaders in the American Muslim community, 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” which some are concerned about. The claim that merely holding the hearings constitutes such an islamophobic hunt is inappropriate.
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 as they should, 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.
Ultimately, if these hearings are successful, America will be safer and there will actually be greater understanding of American Muslims and a deeper appreciation of the wide range of beliefs within the American Muslim community.