Political heavyweights in Washington have placed American Muslims under intense scrutiny lately. Last month, in a circus-like atmosphere of accusations and sinister intimations, Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held congressional hearings to explore what he sees as growing Islamic radicalization and suspicious behavior of leading mosques and imams. And last week, in the usually sleepy Senate, Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) convened hearings to examine post-Sept. 11 anti-Muslim bigotry, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called “the civil-rights issue of our time.” If life were fair, the loudmouth congressman from Long Island wouldn’t have hogged all the attention. But it’s not, and he has, so now would be a good time to set the record straight about our most misunderstood minority.
As evidence, King – who invited no major federal law enforcement officials to his hearing – noted a recent Congressional Research Service report which indicated that authorities around the country have disrupted almost as many purported homegrown jihadist plots in the last two years (22) as they had in the previous eight (23). He cited a 2007 Pew survey, which suggested that 15 percent of Muslim Americans between 18 and 29 think that suicide bombing can be justified. And he questioned their cooperativeness, claiming that many anti-terrorism operatives with whom he speaks (always off the record, it seems) “feel they are not getting the straight story from the people in those mosques.” But a closer examination of facts he conveniently omitted tells a vastly different story.
That same Pew survey found that “Absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world” and concluded that the overwhelming majority of immigrants assimilate and form friendships with non-Muslims, rather than remain distinct from the larger society. But what neither King nor his surveys will tell you is that Muslim Americans are actually some of the best citizens this country has to offer – patriotic, successful and politically engaged.
He must have ignored the recent Duke study which established that 40 percent of Muslims suspected of plotting domestic terrorist attacks since 9/11 had been turned in by fellow Muslims. And he must not have read Mark Penn’s 2007 book “Mictrotrends,” in which Bill Clinton’s former pollster and statistical guru discovered that American Muslims “married at a rate of 70 percent, registered to vote at a rate of 82 percent, were college-educated at a rate of 59 percent and were on average making more than $50,000 a year.” So why persecute these people so recklessly?
That question informed Dick Durbin’s hearings last week, which revealed that the Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 possible hate crimes since 9/11 against those thought to be Muslim, including the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner from Arizona. He also pointed out that Muslims were targeted in 14 percent of religious discrimination cases despite comprising less than 1 percent of the population.
Although our elected officials ought to aggressively pursue what they perceive as threats to national security, King is barking up the wrong tree. To credibly make the claims he’s made would require overwhelming consensus from researchers and national security experts nationwide. King’s findings are thin gruel.
This man doesn’t need a congressional hearing, he needs a bar room stool. Or at least a few tickets to Aziz Ansari’s next show. If that doesn’t change his mind, nothing will.
Michael Kurtz is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]