February 21st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

My Take: Cancel bigoted hearings targeting U.S. Muslims

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

According to a new poll, a slim majority - 56 percent - of Americans support upcoming congressional hearings into alleged extremism in the U.S. Muslim community. However, nearly three-quarters - 72 percent - think Congress should not look for religious extremism only among American Muslims.

These hearings on "the radicalization of the American Muslim community and homegrown terrorism” are being overseen by Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York and the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. They are slated to begin March 7.

On February 1, a group of 51 faith-based, human rights and civil rights organizations, led by Muslim Advocates, called on House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to urge King and his committee to address all forms of religious extremism rather than focusing on Islam.

After King refused to broaden the scope of his hearings, more than 80 religious leaders from Long Island - an area King represents - called on the congressman on February 17 to cancel his hearings, on the theory that “the singling out of the Muslim community undermines fundamental American values and is counterproductive to improving national security.”

Although King has refused to investigate other religious extremists in his hearings, he has seemed to moderate his anti-Islamic rhetoric, prompting Pamela Geller of Stop Islamization of America to complain that his lineup of possible witnesses includes too many people who are too soft on Islam. “It appears that this will be a show trial,” Geller writes.

I couldn’t agree more, but I disagree with Geller about what sort of farce the U.S. Congress will be putting on.

In their letter to King, Long Island’s religious leaders urged their representative to “remember the lessons of history”:

During World War II, Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights and forced into internment camps because of blanket distrust of their commitment to our country. The McCarthy hearings became a shameful national spectacle that falsely impugned the loyalty and destroyed the lives of many Americans. Catholics were once demonized as threats to democracy beholden to a foreign power. Jews and African Americans have faced centuries of suspicion and prejudice.

Given this history, American citizens should be vigilant about opposing any effort to target groups on the basis of their race or religion. And our elected representatives should be especially careful to avoid any appearance of using their power for similar attacks. King’s proposed hearings do not meet this test.

I have no problem with the U.S. Congress listening to testimony about the “radicalization” of Islam in America. As I have written repeatedly, I believe that the world's religions, Islam included, are both toxic and tonic, powerful forces for evil as well as good.

The problem with King's approach is his refusal to listen to testimony about, for example, the “radicalization” of American Christianity. Throughout America’s history Christian extremists (in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, for example) have posed a far greater threat to our nation’s health than extremists of any other religion.

Only time will tell whether we are living in the midst of a new McCarthyism. I certainly hope we are not. But the proposed hearings are bigoted in design, and should be either canceled or reworked to avoid the appearance that the U.S. Congress - whose members are 90 percent Christian - is using its power, contrary to clear meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, to promote Christianity at the expense of other religions.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Culture wars • Islam • New York • Opinion • Politics • Polls

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soundoff (501 Responses)
  1. "religion of peace"

    All muslim immigration to the US should have been halted after 9/11.

    Not until the 'muslim world' produces 10 consecutive years without terrorism should muslims be permitted to immigrate to the West.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  2. Stephan

    Whats wrong with investigating the religion or pieces? They are going exlodydope all over the place.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  3. John

    Finally! It's about time!

    February 22, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Iqbal Khan

      To know the Truth who was behind 9-11, hey read this.....

      Davis Case Has Thrown Overboard America's Rules On Terrorism

      By Asif Haroon Raja

      In USA if a person tortures a dog he is sent to jail, but a government functionary indulging in torture against fellow beings is ignored.

      February 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  4. John

    About time!

    February 22, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  5. Daniel

    you had a bunch of christian extremists running your white house during Bush 2 and they are the ones who started this BS

    February 22, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  6. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    Hmmm...I don't think the Catholics, Buddhists, Jews, or Hindus attacked us recently. I DO recall being involved in a global war with MUSLIM extremists.
    Seriously, Prothero, you're worried about the KKK? The same group the feds targeted and destroyed back in the 70s? How much is CAIR paying you to be a muslim apologist?

    February 22, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. Omar

    Mohammad didn't so much create a religion as a political ideology – islam IS shariah law. It becomes nonsensical when divorced from actual real world political control – which is why the only extant theocracies are ALL islamic and why there are several recent and ongoing insurgencies world wide to establish the supremacy of islamic law and governance (think Khomeinism in Iran, the Taliban, Al Shabab in Somalia, the islamist genocide in Sudan, the Algerian civil war, the Muslim Brotehrhood in Egypt, the islamist insurgency in Pakistan, Abu Sayef, MILF in Phillipines, Boko Haram, Hamas, etc. etc). There is no other religion that inculcates and requires world conquest under islamic law in the way that islam does. There just isn't – and to say that religious extremism in islam is just the same as religious extremism for any other religion is untruthful and dishonest. Sam Sarris has some good points to make on this score . . . you could probably find them by googling something like "The problem with islamic fundamentalism is the fundamentals of islam . . " and Sma Harris.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  8. Radical

    Radical Islam or Radical any religion is a product of few crazy puppets and the crazier puppet masters like Peter King and Lieberman.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  9. Triple A

    I try to keep an open mind on many things including Muslims and this is my take on things.
    1. When 9/11 happened the Muslim reactions... If they were not celebrating then it was little to none
    2. Almost daily suicide bombings...Muslim reactions little to nothing
    3. Almost daily car bombings (and these bombings are killing their own) Muslim reactions little to nothing
    4. Al Qaeda declaring Jihad on the world... Muslim reactions little to nothing
    5. Some to bit no name preacher wants to burn the Quran... Muslim reaction worl wide death to America.
    As far as I am concerned that tells me all I need to know about Muslims

    February 22, 2011 at 11:38 am |


      February 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  10. earl fey

    Jon Who are you. Are you a coward who hides behind no name to report "facts' so you don"t hae vto stand behind them.

    Read carefully and you will note that the "are" you refer. to is "was'. There is a difference.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. chatmandu002

    Islam, the most dangerous thing on earth.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Daniel

      tell that to the south and north American Indians and they may have a different story....wasn't too long ago Christians where just as bad as any Muslim extremist of today

      February 22, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  12. Shadysider

    Beck – Historically it's been the Christians who have been the violent religion who refused to allow believers of other faiths to live in peace. Muslims have allowed Jews and Christians to live in peace in their areas, sure there were taxes and one couldn't take part in the armies, but they didn't force the other peoples of the book to convert or be put to death. Ironically, it's the atheists and agnostics that should be most in fear. The 'Muslim scare' is being used by politicians in an attempt to drum up support from an ignorant base. It's not just radical muslims we should fear, but radically disposed people of all faiths, and no faiths as well.

    Perm- The Taliban couldn't hand him over for two reasons. 1) They didn't have the authority. Bin Laden wasn't a member of the Taliban, and by all accounts, the mujahideen were better fighters than the Taliban, so even if they tried to use force it wouldn't have happened. 2) The idea of Pashtun hospitality also got in the way. 3) It wasn't the Taliban who stopped special forces from pursuing Bin Laden, it was the other Afghanis that we worked with.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • TCM

      Christians have evolved...Muslims are still in the stone age...get your head out of your....that's why it's shady...

      February 22, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Battsman

      TCM – Having sat through a Christian service with snake charming and people speaking in tongues; I'd question that "Christianity has evolved bit." There are modern Muslims and there are modern Christians (as well as many other religions). There are also a whole bunch of fringe crowd crazies... Islam doesn't have the market on nutters cornered by a long shot.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  13. WVlady63

    One of the leaders of the muslims told Shawn Hannity that basically, they will eventually take over the world. I didn't hear one "peaceful" muslim come out and say that wasn't true. If you think the muslims in OUR country are peaceful then you probably still think that "9/11" never happened.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Ruby

      Good heavens, they must have stolen that line from Christians!

      February 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Battsman

      I suspect very few Muslims actually tune into Shawn Hannity – most likely because Shawn selectively picks guests for the best / most delicious sound bite (see: Red Meat for the Radicals). If you are watching Hannity and take it at face value... *sigh* There is very little difference between the meat thrown by Hannity and the meat thrown by someone like Maddow – just the target audience. For the rest of us living in the real, grey world of the middle... Well, we just wish you'd widen your horizon a little.

      Specifically, in reference to the idea of Muslims taking over the world – I'm sure there are Muslims that want everyone to be Muslim. Just like there are Christians that want everyone to be Christian, Athiests, Budhists... Taoists... People always feel compelled to try and bring everyone over to their viewpoint. Try as they might, one belief structure for everyone isn't going to happen.

      In fact, most people that turn to radicalism in any belief structure are generally people who feel disillusioned and without opportunity. Amazingly, there is a direct correlation between education, prosperity and agnostic beliefs. (Well not really amazing at all if you live in that world).

      February 22, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • slowgun

      any post that mentioned Hannity is bound to be full of BS...thanks for proving it.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. Jerry

    A man says to the snake, "You crawl in the dirt on your belly waiting to kill." The snake replies, "I'm a snake".

    February 22, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  15. not a nut job

    Throughout the history of the U.S., more people have been targeted because of their type of christian faith, or in the name of their christian faith. Only about .1% of Muslims are involved with radical elements of Islam. The same mentality and excuses that defend this bigotry is the same as it is in all other cases.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • TCM

      .1%??? where did you get that data? Oh, my bad...the same place Biden gets the jobs report data....
      Islam = radical islam...period

      February 22, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  16. TCM

    Obviously this author is right where Islam wants him; complacent. Islam has already announced it's game plan to conquer this nation...from within. In this effort, they heavily count on the ultra sensitive political correctness that the liberal agenda wants to ram down everyone's throat. It's liberalism paving the way for both illegal mexicans and Islam to take over this country; just a matter of who's first.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Dan Halen

      Uh, yeah, right. You better go put on your tin hat.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • slowgun

      all this author is saying is that if your going to do this type of investigation...then you need to indlude all extremist groups...
      what is so wrong about that?

      February 22, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  17. Macro

    It is true that violence comes from all creeds and religions. However, the most violent religion out there is the cult of Islam. The mistreatment of women and other religious minorities is atrocious. The fact that most of 1.3 billion muslims in the world blame 15 million jews for all their problems is pathetic. Hopefully, these protests will get real humanistic thinkers in the Arab world. Ones that will believe in fairness and human rights. Hopefully, they will be secular and not islamist.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Edwin


      A decade or so ago, Christianity was the most violent religion - it utilized car bombs and targeted shootings. Now it is less about global terrorism, though it still uses witchcraft and the killing of children (in Africa) as methods of control.

      On the other hand, the Hutaree (Christian group in America) was stopped from a bombing a funeral last year, so Christian terrorists are still around.

      If you are correct that the majority of religion-based terrorists are currently Islamic, we should still investigate ALL kinds. Why restrict ourselves to a fraction of the terrorists, even if that fraction is relatively large?

      Why are conservatives so afraid of allowing other extremists to be investigated as well? It seems to me that MORE investigation is better than less - unless the conservatives think *they* might be part of the investigation...

      February 22, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  18. Reads

    looks like the fear mogering is working

    February 22, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • TCM

      "fear mongering," is a term near and dear to the ignorant left; the left act like a puppy that's peed on the carpet; if they don't look at it, it's not there....and that's exactly what this radical religion is counting on....

      February 22, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Edward

      The Left only gets upset if government takes action to stop handouts or crack down on illegal aliens. Everything else they simply ignore and keep their heads in a hole. You can't really blame them – they are victims of liberal teachers/professors not to mention the liberal media. They have been brainwashed to a point of no return to reality.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  19. JON

    Politically correct culture is harming america. Radical lslam is not a fringe group as cnn and the mainstream media love to try to suggest. In fact, most studies show that approximately 8-12 % of the global muslim population are sympathetic to and support jihad. That equates to almost 200 million people. That is NOT fringe. The media has been lying about this. If you look at the world almost every hot spot is as a result of jihad. chechna, somalia, pakistan, balkans, middle east, uk, france, bali, spain, america...everywere...

    this writer suggests the kkk are a problem...and they were in the 50's but not now and have not been for a long while.. they are a disgusting group, but to suggest that they are similar in any way to muslim jihadists is ridiculous PC culture. The PC left always sites timothy mcveigh..a one off lunatic....radical islam is worldwide, pervasive, in the US in a big way wth tons of sleeper cells, and the left wants to ignore it at their own peril.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • David

      Could not have said it any better.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Russ

      the second anyone uses "political correctness" as a point of argument, you should stop listening to them.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Edward

      The left honestly believes that if you just talk to and be kindly to those that want to kill you – they will then love you. This is called "politically correct" and they will believe this until they are being executed by radical Muslims. Radical Muslims are a danger no matter where they are and indeed it is past time to have hearings about the extent of the danger in the U.S. and what can be done to limit the danger.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Edwin


      When you write "studies show 8-12 % of the global muslim population are sympathetic to and support jihad," can you cite the sources, or perhaps tell where you got the information?

      And can you explain what the studies meant by the word jihad? I have friends who are Islamic, and they strongly believe in jihad - to them it is an INTERNAL struggle, the struggle of the good within us with the bad within us. They believe it is CENTRAL to Islam. I would bet most Christians support such a concept, too, even if they do not call it by that word.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • TRouble

      I second that. I've never understood the need by some to deny common sense. When you are being attacked by Muslim extremists you focus on Muslim extremists. Am I crazy? That doesn't seem like an abnormal, inappropriate or far right response.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Brian

      And if I don't like, or oppose, or say negative things about any religious "extremist" (psycho ultra fundamentalist Christian, murderous Hindu or Muslim etc.), does that make me a "bigot"? How about inner city Italian or Russian mafia types, or "Bloods" or Hispanic criminals? We could have hearings on any of them- crime and terrorism costs trillions that could go to educations and health care etc. Let's have hearings and see about the current, primary global threat of militant Islam. If it's not a threat, great! If it is, which seems obvious, then perhaps Mr. King et.al. will advance our knowledge in an effort to improve our understanding. The more we know, the better. I can decide if someone has an irrational fear of someone else because of their religion or skin color. I can also decide if it is rational and needs to be addressed carefully.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Darren


      So, you have a few Muslim friends who are not involved in terrorism? Wow. Guess what? I have many friends who are Muslim and are not engaged in any terrorist activities.

      But guess what! Those two Muslim friends of yours are not the entire world Muslim population. Of course, as NO SANE PERSON DISPUTES (even though the "righteous defenders of the oppressed" don't seem to realize) , the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and refute their extremist brothers. But this does not mean that recognizing that Muslim Extremists as a significant threat to the United States is bigoted, or racist, or stupid. When people refer to Muslim Extremists, it is not fear-mongering, it is not a "round-up," it is simply raising awareness about a relatively significant portion (but still very minor) of the world population that have one goal: to kill innocent women, children, and men in the name of god. If these extremists were Christian, or Hindu, Jewish, or whatever, people would still call them extremists and consider them the exact same threat. Indeed, there are radical Christians and other religions that also seek implementation of their ideology through violence and we rightly condemn them; but the threat from these people is relatively insignificant compared to that of radial Islam.

      Burying your head in the sand is why Hitler and Nazi Germany caused the deaths of millions, and why other dictators have a relatively easy time "cleansing" their nation of the undesirables. The threat from radical Islam, though, poses much more of a wide-spread problem not simply limited to a single country's borders. It must be addressed.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Battsman

      Darren – Fair enough. However, if it isn't a witch hunt why not extend it to a hearing reviewing all religious extremism? Wouldn't the country be best served by turning over all the rocks that lead to hatred? Glass houses, stones.... Extremism among the disaffected is the problem – in any and all religion.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Horace Kindler


      You want to know what jihad really means? Try googling the term and you'll find plenty of explanations that it is first and foremost armed conflict against non-muslims. (Quran-9:123: O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him). Or look up Sayyid Qutb's explanation of jihad. Your muslim "friends" know better or misunderstand their own religion. By the way, they are not your friends if they believe, as they must, in the Quran which warns them in Sura 5.51: Believers, do not take Jews or Christians as friends They are but one another's friends. If anyone of you takes them for his friends, then he is surely one of them. God will not guide evil-doers. Try to wake up Edwin.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Matthew

      12%??!! That's almost 55%!!! Sheesh, stop with the numbers. You know they didn't survey EVERY muslim in the world, they probably only tagged about 1,200 people. And 12% 'sympathize?' There is a BIG difference between sympathizing and strapping a bomb to ones chest. And so much of Radical Islam isn't targetting American interests as much as they are targetting Moderate Islam. Much of it is internalized.

      And as for the KKK and 'radical' Christianity. Sure, the Klan isn't as prevalent now in America as it once was, but Neo Nazism is pretty rampant across Western Europe as well as some portions of the East. And it should be of note that Bosnia/Serbia was an ethnic cleansing OF muslims, not BY muslims. You might be a little sypathetic to the local 'Robin Hoods' who are standing between the murdering armed forces and your family.

      There are probably more Islamic elements fighting for and demanding DEMOCRACY than there are fighting for Sharia Law.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  20. voice of reason

    Timothy McVie ring a bell? (sp)

    February 22, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Bernard

      And I suppose you could also Ignore the Irish Republican Army and pretty much at least 50% of the conflicts in the southern half of Africa

      February 22, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Edward

      You should have read and learned by now that Tim McVie did not identify himself with any religion and did not actively practice any religion. He was a nut case, but it had nothing to do with religion. The radical Muslims on the other hand believe their senseless killing is by the direction of their God. A very big difference. The government can't effectively be proactive to individual nut cases – but they can indeed be pro-active to the massive radical Muslim problem. Having hearings to identify the extent of the problem in the U.S. and what additional things could be done is also a pretty good idea. Or we can just wait until after the next killings in the U.S. and the ask why nothing was done to prevent it.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • chris

      Joe McCarthy ring a bell?

      February 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.