Friday, March 11, 2011

Democracy in Action, Even in the US Congress

I was dismayed to learn that the Representative Peter King was convening yet another Congressional hearing to investigate the radicalization of American Muslims and their ties to terrorism. I think this smacks of ethnic persecution, which only helps our enemies. And it's not like this is a new topic where a lot of new information might come to life; Congress has already held 22 hearings on this topic since 9-11, under Democrats and Republicans, and so far as I can tell, nothing good has come of any of it.

Until this time. Because instead of going along with this witch hunt, Congressional Democrats have decided to make a public stand on behalf of American Muslims and against the demonization of ethnic groups. Instead of a witch hunt, we have been treated to a debate. Congressman King and his allies have not backed down, bringing in "experts" who think America is full of dangerous Muslims and accusing their opponents of "political correctness." The Democrats have brought in their own experts, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who emphasized the good cooperation he gets from Muslim leaders and the importance of winning trust among Muslims. The real star of the hearings so far has been Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslims in the house. You can read all of his moving testimony here. Excerpts:
I will make three points today. First, violent extremism is a serious concern to all Americans, and is the legitimate business of this Committee. Second, this Committee’s approach to violent extremism is contrary to American values, and threatens our security. Finally, we need increased understanding and engagement with Muslim American communities to keep America safe. . . .

Today’s hearing is entitled, “The extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s response.” It is true that specific individuals, including some who are Muslims, are violent extremists. However, these are individuals – but not entire communities. Individuals like Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Faisel Shazad, and Nidal Hasan do not represent the Muslim American community. When their violent actions are associated with an entire community, then blame is assigned to a whole group. This is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating, which is counter-productive.

This point is at the heart of my testimony today. Ascribing the evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community is wrong; it is ineffective; and it risks making our country less secure.

Solutions to the scourge of domestic terrorism often emerge from individuals within the Muslim community—a point I address later in my testimony. However, demanding a “community response” (as the title of this hearing suggests) asserts that the entire community bears responsibility for the violent acts of individuals. Targeting the Muslim American community for the actions of a few is unjust. Actually all of us—all communities—are responsible for combating violent extremism. Singling out one community focuses our analysis in the wrong direction. . . .

Let me close with a story, but remember that it’s only one of many American stories that could be told. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave first responders who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, “He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore No. 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived, and he was called Sal by his friends… He became a research assistant at Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang in Handel’s Messiah in Queens. He saw all the Star Wars movies, and it was well known that his new Honda was the one with Yung Jedi license plates.”

Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on 9/11. After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed.

Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens.

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