WASHINGTON – A congressional hearing about radicalization of US Muslims has divided Republicans and Democrats, with many see the debate as counterproductive in efforts to fight extremism.
"I hope this hearing will not encourage the belief among Americans that our fellow citizens are apparently dangerous because of their religious affiliation," Democratic lawmaker Bennie Thompson was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Republican Representative Peter King has held a new hearing on what he calls radicalization of US Muslims.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans,” said King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
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“Yet the reality is that the Islamist terrorist threat comes from that community.”
The Republican representative insisted that Islam exhorts followers to condone violence and extremism.
“To deny that there’s any correlation between the Muslim faith and the biggest threat to this country today defies credulity.”
Four witnesses were invited to testify in the hearing.
"We can come to a consensus that Islamism is a threat, and that's why you need Muslims ... to lead the movement to separate Islam from Islamism," Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said.
The hearing is part of several hearings launched by King about the so-called radicalization of American Muslims.
"Fifteen months ago this committee — the Homeland Security Committee, which was formed in the wake of the tragic attacks of 9/11 — held the first in a series of hearings into the radicalization of the Muslim American community," King said in his opening statement.
"The necessity of these hearings was obvious — and there should have been bipartisan support."
But Democrat lawmakers criticized the hearing as counterproductive.
"I do not oppose hearings on radicalization,” Democratic lawmaker Al Green of Texas said.
“I do oppose hearings that don't focus on the entirety of radicalization. And if you agree that we have Christians who become radicalized, why not have a hearing on the radicalization of Christians?"
Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at NYU, was also critical of the hearing.
"The hearings drive a wedge between Muslims and their fellow Americans," Patel told the panel.
"When members of Congress hold hearings about the ’radicalization’ of American Muslims and expressly place an entire community under the spotlight, it sends the message to all Americans that the government views this community as a security threat. And the public appears to be receiving this message loud and clear."
The hearing has already drawn fire from civil rights groups.
A Washington, D.C.-based group of faith-based organizations known as Shoulder-to-Shoulder issued a statement calling on King to "stop perpetuating damaging false witness against our neighbors."
A nationwide coalition of 40 religious and civil rights groups also sent a letter to the Republican representative urging him “to discontinue this series of hearings, which undermines fundamental American values, erodes trust, and fuels divisiveness by casting suspicion over an entire community."
US Muslims have warned that the hearing stigmatizes the whole minority.
“I think this is really hard to understand because the real problem is how we Muslims are treated in this country by conservatives,” Falls City, Virginia resident Omar Mohsen told Bikyamasr website.
Hohsen, who worked as a translator for the US military in Iraq, said the hearings themselves “are the problem and will create anger and possibly anti-American sentiment.”
“The Muslim-American community has always been supportive of the United States and we are citizens, so these attacks are simply wrong.”
US Muslims, estimated at between six to eight million, have been sensing a growing hostility in recent months.
Recently, a Republican Missouri lawmaker described Islam as a disease like polio while another Alaska Rep. branded Muslims as ‘occupiers’ of American neighborhoods.Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.
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