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Religious Officials Denounce Congressman Peter King’s “False Witness” Against MuslimsEric LeMastersMarch 15, 2011
At a Capitol Hill press conference, Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious officials charged that New York Congressman Peter King’s hearings on the “Radicalization of American Muslims” unfairly single out Islam as a growing hotbed of radicalism within the United States.
The March 10 press conference, down the hall from King’s hearings at the U.S. House Cannon Office Building, included National Council of Churches chief Michael Kinnamon (just returned from a protest in New York City); New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good chief Richard Cizik; and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) chief Imam Mohamed Magid. Though not present, Jim Winkler of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and Jim Wallis from Sojourners also endorsed the statement.
The interfaith statement condemned the King hearings’ “false witness” against Islam, which the statement insisted is largely a peaceful, law-abiding religion and culture.
“We gather together to affirm that we stand united with all Americans in urging our elected representatives to act—not against a single, unfairly maligned group, but against all forms of violence and extremism that endanger our security,” the statement declared. “As spiritual leaders and people of faith, we call on the United States Congress, elected officials at every level of government, and all American citizens not to perpetuate damaging false witness against our neighbors.” The statement claimed that any who “assert that Muslims as a broad group are not deeply devoted to America’s safety and the peaceful interaction of its entire citizenry” is guilty of bearing false witness against Islam.
They declared: “As faith leaders, we are committed to building a future in which extremism is an artifact of the past, and where religious identity is not the cause of hostility but of acceptance.”
Kinnamon introduced the interfaith coalition as a way to counter the misinformation supposedly spread by King’s hearings. “We… stand shoulder to shoulder in opposing the singling out of any one religious community in a way that would cast unwarranted suspicion on that part of the American population,” Kinnamon said. He was quick to say that inquiries into the roots of terrorism are welcome, but that we should not assume that the issue lies within the Muslim community. He also denied the coalition is merely appealing to “political correctness” by dodging a potentially awkward political topic.
“The obligation to responsibly investigate all is not a matter of political correctness,” said Kinnamon. “I think we reject the notion that this is political correctness. We are trying to address the issue, not a false issue.” He added: “Implication of a broader community does not address the question at hand.”
Richard Cizik contended that the hearings amount to no less than an assault on the “civil public square” – one where no faith should be put under the microscope. “A civil public square raises questions about what happened at the hearing today,” he said. “We would say as evangelicals that every right that we assert for ourselves is at once a right we defend for other faiths, too. And because of that, a right for a Christian is a right for a Muslim.
“We are concerned that a security hearing that focuses on one faith group exclusively serves only to amplify the Islamophobia that we know exists,” Cizik argued. “I also stand here today to say that Islamophobia is wrong, and it is waning – and it deserves to be excluded from this country.”
Cizik said that, ultimately, bringing one religion to the forefront of the debate is counterproductive in the fight against terrorism. “It is a dangerous thing when one group is singled out in front of the rest,” he said. “It is humiliating, it is shaming, it is stigmatizing; and almost always invites citizens to marginalize that targeted group.”
One questioner charged that few of the religious officials present addressed the “substance” of the hearings, specifically referencing the testimony of two witnesses who alleged that Muslim leadership in the United States has often been active in promoting extremist views.
“Muslims are not saying there’s no problem,” countered Imam Magid of ISNA. “We do believe there’s elements that targeting [sic] our youth in our community. But we’re saying that Muslims are really engaging in this fight against violent extremism.”
Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, also countered the notion that Muslim leadership has been largely uncooperative with law enforcement in dealing with Islamic extremism. “The rationale for these hearings rests on the assertion that the American Muslim community has failed to support American law enforcement in its efforts against terrorism. This assertion is false,” he said, citing a Duke University study that found that Muslims were very often the source of critical information in preventing terrorist attacks.
James Zogby, president of the American Arab Institute, responded by questioning Representative King’s ability to oversee an unbiased investigation.
“Look, the congressman who called the hearing – I’m not going to question his motives. But he has a record and a history of statements that have been abusive towards Muslims,” Zogby alleged. “And he also has a history of partnerships with people who call into question his ability to be objective as he moves forward on these issues. What came through so very clearly today was a circling the horses around the congressman from one side of the aisle, and a division in the ranks on the other side of the aisle.”
However, Kinnamon admitted that some truth was on display at the hearings.
“Let me simply say also that all of us ache for the two families who were represented in the hearings,” he said, referring to the testimonies of Melvin Bledsoe and Abdirizak Bihi, both of whom saw close family succumb to extremist ideologies through the influence of local leadership. “I know that I also was deeply moved by their testimony. I don’t doubt the reality of their experience.”
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