WASHINGTON – A coalition of 51 religious and civil rights groups in the United States are urging congressional leaders to stop upcoming House hearings on Muslim extremism or at least focus the inquiry more broadly by examining violence “motivated by extremist beliefs in all its forms.”
The hearings, scheduled to take place in February, are coordinated by Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in response to complaints he said he has received from law enforcement officials describing Muslim leaders as uncooperative in terror investigations.
King has claimed that 80 percent of American mosques are run by extremists, a figure strongly disputed by Muslim leaders and scholars.
“Singling out a group of Americans for government scrutiny based on their faith is divisive and wrong,” the coalition said in a Feb. 1 letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
The letter compared the upcoming congressional investigation to “hearings held in the 1950s by then-U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy” and said that “dark chapter in our history taught us that Congress has a solemn duty to wield its investigatory power responsibly.”
The coalition’s letter acknowledged that the United States faces a number of serious threats but it said they are not from members of one particular racial, religious or political group. The group advised the Committee on Homeland Security to “focus on keeping us safe, rather than engaging in fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric that only weakens the fabric of our nation and distracts us from actual threats.”
Signers of the coalition letter included: Amnesty International USA, Interfaith Alliance, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and local and national Muslim groups and bar associations.
Muslim American groups also have denounced the hearings since they were first announced in December.
Another group objecting to the hearings was the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which said in a Feb. 1 statement: “Muslim-Americans are just that – members of our American family. Singling them out for scrutiny is not only poor policy, it is un-American.”
In a December post on The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based interfaith youth organization, wrote that the House hearings should extend beyond an investigation of high-profile American Muslim extremists and also “shine a light on the role that the mainstream Muslim community has played.”
He said mainstream American Muslims “have been vigilant against extremists in their communities” and often report these extremists to law enforcement.
The upcoming hearings come on the heels of an uproar last year over the proposal to build a an Islamic cultural center near New York’s ground zero. Supporters of the plan said it was going to include not just worship space, but also an auditorium and a fitness facility.
The rancor and anger sparked by the proposed mosque prompted a statement last September from a group of dozens of interfaith religious leaders denouncing past and planned attacks against Muslims and Islamic houses of worship and called for a new era of interfaith cooperation.
The group said it had “become alarmed by the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated” by plans to build the Islamic community center near the site of ground zero in New York and said they didn’t want to debate the project but simply wanted to “respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated.”
King was one of the leaders who opposed the building of the Islamic center.
The scope of King’s upcoming hearings has been questioned by the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
In a Feb. 1 letter to King, Thompson noted that there are “a variety of domestic extremist groups more prevalent in the United States than Islamic extremists, including neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, anti-tax groups and others.”
He said he shares King’s concern about national threats but said the committee should conduct “a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups.”
“In the final analysis,” he wrote, “the ideology of a bomb maker matters less than the lethal effects of his creation.”