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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. wh0d3y

    Apostacy is a simple litmus for modern religeous tolerance. Name a country/state where apostacy is illegal and punishable by death, and there's an overwhelming majority chance that the religion involved is Islam. I do my best to consider all reasonable differences of opinion, but this simple fact speaks volumes about Islam and some of the powerful men who weild their power in its name.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  2. Ben Cooper

    Muslims have lost all credibility insofar as their 'peaceful' nature is concerned. The deafening silence of Muslims in this country condemns them. They don't march or rail against violence caused by their blood-thirsty brothers that only means they empathize with them. Islam is a blight, a cancer, on the world that is spreading. Mohammed was a fake, someone that plagiarized the bible and the gospels and then had the utter gall to install himself at the top of the ladder. Yeah, in a book filled with figures of Jewish ancestry/origin - Solomon, David, Joshua, Moses, Jesus - God is going to install an Arab above them all? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!! What an utterly preposterous concept! Jesus told us point-blank that there would be false prophets to follow Him. And there you are - the biggest fraud of them all, Mohammed, a power-hungry vindictive madman. If I'm not mistaken, he allowed nonbelievers to live providing they paid him! In other words, boys and grils, he ran the world's fist protection racket. And let us not forget that while the commandments state 'Thou Shalt Not Kill', Mohammed told his stupid followers to kill everyone that didn't do what he said. Mohammed was the anti-Christ, a demon that has brought terrible suffering to the world. Make no mistake - there will be a world war because of this monster.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • icu

      it's sad but unfortunately i agree with a lot of what u said. mohammed was humble to begin with but as he gained more followers he became more and more egotistical and tyrannical. no religion was good enough for him, except the one he penned. i agree muslims need to speak out but they do not. and i'm a lefty. i'm tired of these medieval minded idiots. something needs to change.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  3. Jane

    We better move before it's too late. If we drag every religious group into this it will take years of us in red tape while Muslims will use viiolence against us.
    Who ever said there is equal opportunity in terrorism? Islam has proven it is and intends violence against us.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  4. Moderate

    While it may be true that most American Muslims are law abiding the fact is that, of the terrorist acts committed in and against this country in the last 10-15 years, the vast majority have been committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. If we have to target this population in the name of protecting Amercan lives, I'm sorry. The damage the terrorists have done and the changes in our lives these attacks have brought about necessitate strong measures.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • SearchingStones

      Your data is incorrect. According to the FBI Database of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by group from 1980 to 2005: 42% Latino, 24% extreme left wing groups, 16% other, 7% Jewish extremists, 6% Islamic extremists, and 5% Communists. This is the actual data according to the FBI, and is readily accessible at the FBI's official website (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05).

      February 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • When Worlds Collide

      I'd bet if you counted the bombings of black churches in the South that you would arrive at a larger number than so called Muslim attacks.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Julie

      When Worlds Collide, I don't like to call names, but you're just an idiot. Just hijacked ships off the coast of Somalia by Islamic pirates total 450 for one year. I've never heard of 450 bombings of churches. Now, let's talk about kidnappings and beheadings in Afghanistan and Iraq. How about the 3,000 people that died on 9/11? The US embassies in Africa? The bombings in London a few years ago?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Julie

      When Worlds Collide, I must say more.... you say "so-called Muslim attacks" So-called!!!???!!! I believe they have been pretty real attacks. I don't think 9/11 was a figment of our imagination. Yes, you are an idiot.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  5. Capt D

    And you would expect something else from an opinion on the Communist News Network?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • icu

      so why r u here? go back to fake news network.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Roger Stephen Roth

    I think we should listen to our main scientists as well the people who argued for atheism and agnostics. Islam has done nothing good for the world other than leave a path of destruction. So has organized religion. I think it will be better off if we adapted Atheism or Deism without organized religion in any country. I don't have anything against Judaism or Christianity but the Atheists criticism is correct about Islam and so is Geert Wilders. People who defend Islam are ignorant because they have not seen what Atheists have been warning people about given there is no such thing as tolerance in Islam. It is really a ideology of hate promoting totalitarianism, Islamic fascism, militant components which undermine the values of human rights and democracy taking the world back into the 7th century. People like Pat Condel, Richard Dawkings, Brigitte Gabriel for ACT 4 America, Wafa Sultan ex-muslim Phd, Salmun Rushdie who wrote the satanic verses understood what they were talking about. So was people like Sam Harris, Theo Van gogh who was murdered for criticizing Islam, Orianna Fallaci, Robert Spencer and many other anti-Islam critics. Perhaps people should adopt Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and science and we should be more opened minded rather than to believe in fairy tales of the Bible which is nothing but a fantasy book of literature.

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

      I disagree with your statement that the bible is a fantasy book. Faith and religion aside, the bible is a history book. The authors were attempting to record historical events. Whether they interpreted the history according to what you choose to believe-that's another story, but it is clearly a history book.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  7. Ken from FL

    Let's see: all the 9/11 hijackers were Muslims from the Middle East; 15 of the 19 were from fundamentalist Saudi Arabia. And we should investigate all who MIGHT be religious extremists in the US for the purpose of . . . balance? The last time I checked, Christian or Jewish extremists in the US - should there be any in significant numbers (which is a questionable proposition to begin with) had not killed several thousand Americans. Some of you may want to check your facts on how many people McVeigh and others killed compared to what happened in New York. And not all White Supremacists are Christians; far from it. Many reject Christianity simply because Christ . . . are you ready for this? . . . was a Jew. And McViegh didn't commit his atrocity in the name of Christianity in any event. Al Qaeda perpetrates these horrors in the name of its version of Islam; no matter how perverted that interpretation may be, it was still committed in the name of Islam and the desire to establish a worldwide caliphate. Do some of you never bother to read what the Islamic radicals are saying about us? What they wish to accomplish? Have you not listened to Choudary calling for the Islamic flag over the White House and the establishment of shariah law? Naw, these groups are just like our home-grown Christian extremists, according to Prothero. What we have here is just another case of moral relativism and political correctness gone wild. Rep King is investigating the right groups; the threat to our national security comes from this group, not the imagined others.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • When Worlds Collide

      Do you truly believe that there aren't significant numbers of "Christian terroists." It is a sad day when we attribute the number of dead to which is the worst religion.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  8. Julie

    Maybe if we click our heels together and make a wish, it will all go away, and then we wouldn't have to deal with the enemy at our gates.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • When Worlds Collide

      I did that, unfortunately, the the far right is still here.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  9. conradshull

    Why do bozos like this author refer to actions of half to a full century or ever longer ago to try to illustrate straw man present actions or "dangers"? No "extremist" Christians or any other sect, no matter how repugnant or violent, has EVER posed danger to our country as radical Islam presently does. To think otherwise is a sign of dim-witted, dishonest or deranged thinking.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  10. Julie

    If you want to look at what group is dangerous, just watch the news. Everywhere in the world where there is trouble, whether it be Chechnya, Somalia, Indonesia, the Middle East...there is an Islamic element. Duh! The 4 americans on the yacht and the uprising in Libya are the two current headline pictures on CNN. Both islamic. The islamists state clearly that they are at war with us and that they intend to establish a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, bringing everyone under the rule of Sharia Law. They say this clearly, without stuttering. I don't understand why people can't hear it. We try to "get along" and "think good thoughts" while they are busy making plans to subjugate us.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  11. EmptySkull

    What does a "hearing" actually accomplishes anyway? May as well put it on Oprah if they just want to chat around the issues

    February 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  12. Tom R

    "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."

    There is somthing wrong with this poll. 72% are against looking for extremism in American Muslims but 52% favor congressional hearings looking into it? That is 124%, impossable.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Sheik Yerbooti

      Ummm...you might want to try applying a bit or reading comprehension. Let's look at that quote again:

      "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."

      72% think we should not look for religious extremism ONLY among American Muslims. In other words, 72% think we should look at OTHER religions as well. Oh, and 56% + 72% = 128%, not 124%. Oh, and it's spelled "impossible" not "impossable".

      February 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • When Worlds Collide

      Two separate poles questions are not additive.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • James

      The 2 percentages are not exclusive. A person may not support the hearing, and only support looking at _all_ extremism. Another person may also support both the hearings and looking beyond the one religious group.

      February 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  13. my6cents

    He is so right !!!!!!! i personally know where there are terror cells comprised of Buddists , catholic nuns, evangelicals , baptists , protestants ,presbyterians , hindus, 7th day adventists, mormons ,jehovas witnesses just waiting to be called up to blow things up . We should check out the boy and girl scouts too , they wear military looking uniforms!!!!!!!! Who knows what evils are lurking there!!!!!

    February 22, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Jabba

      I know what lurks there, the same thing that lurks in every catholic church.....poor kids

      February 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  14. conradshull

    Islamic violence and terror exist in greater numbers by several factors. Too many Liberals are willfully bad at math and refuse to acknowledge scale. Ten Christian or other group acts of violence or terror are not the same as 1000 Islamic acts of violence or terror.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • wjmknight

      Please identify for me one American muslim who has murdered a doctor who provides abortion services. Born again Christians are as much a danger as extermeist muslims.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • SearchingStones

      According to the FBI Database of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by group from 1980 to 2005: 42% Latino, 24% extreme left wing groups, 16% other, 7% Jewish extremists, 6% Islamic extremists, and 5% Communists. This is the actual data according to the FBI, and is readily accessible at the FBI's official website (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05). Due to inconsistent media reporting, it may appear as if more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were committed by Muslims. (How often do you hear about the more frequent Jewish or Latino terrorist attacks, and groups such as the Jewish Defense League or the Ejercito Popular Boricua Macheteros?) The fact that – according to the FBI – there are more attacks by Jewish extremists than Islamic extremists, supports including all religious terrorists in these hearings. Does it make sense to spend taxpayer money to investigate only 6% of all U.S. terrorist threats? Why not open it up to Christian and Jewish extremists to: at least you'd be investigating over 13% of terror threats...

      February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  15. Omar

    Apologies, "Sam Sarris" in my previous post should read "Sam Harris" . . . Also, Lashkar E Toiba and related groups in Pak/Kashmir/India would be another example of an insurgency group attempting to establish an islamic state/supremacy of islamic law.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  16. Sterling

    The fact that congress is holding hearings on something they can do nothing about is NOT out of the ordinary. It is the FBI's job and I'm sure they are looking into all threats whether they come from radicalized muslims or wacko white supreamist.
    The real question is should they NOT hold hearings out of fear of being labelled racists?

    February 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  17. Robert Bauer

    I believe the following people do/did identify themselves as Christians: ALL members Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, Tom Metzger and all members of the white suprmeacist movement, etc., etc., etc. These are just a few of the names that could populate this list, but these few have killed more people than any AMERICAN Islamic group. So, why are we investigating the Muslims in America, without including these so-called Christian groups? It's the people listed here who pose the gravest threat to our freedom and our beliefs. Not, American Muslims. This is not just another example of the moronic bigotry that persists within Republican ideology, it is also another example of how the Republicans have NO relevant answers whatsoever, to ANY of our problems.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • BillyBob117

      You are one sick pathetic lefty. You are one of the reasons the infestation has been allowed to grow in this great country.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Omar

      Tim McViegh was, by his own admission, agnostic.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Tom R

      McVeigh was not christian. In his own words. "Science is my religion."

      February 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Chas in Iowa

      I believe all extremist religous groups should be monitored for activities that would infringe on the rights of the rest of the community. That said I also believe everyone has a right to thier opinions and beliefs and someone trying to infringe on those rights fall into Orwell's "thought police".
      The far right is trying to move this country into a direction that I find very bogoted. Look like us, talk like us, and think like us or you are the enemy.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • ptgroove

      The Klan, Tim M., and Metzger combined have killed approx. the same number of people killed on 9-11. Look it up. Any other examples? And don't throw Nazis into the discussion. They never claimed to he christians, although people love to think that they did.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • k5150

      I don't think they all cried "Praise be to Jesus" as they were killing people, stating it is Jesus that told them to kill non-believers.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Your only objection is the Timothy McVeigh inclusion what about all the other extremists Christian. Walk a mile in a non-Chrisitans shoes for one week and see just how oppressively Christians are.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Battsman

      BillyBob – Oh yes, anyone that isn't pegged to the Far Right wall by the inertia of anger, hate, and intollerance is a "Lefty."
      -Signed, a VERY frustrated moderate.

      Seriously – if the most you can add to the discussion is to call people names, crawl back under your porch and get out of the sun – clearly the heat has sapped your mind.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Dusty2701

      Chas in Iowa. You just described a far left wing liberal!

      February 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Ricky L

      Most lefties don't tolerate hate speech all that well, Dusty....

      February 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Rex

      Yes, those folks reported to be Christians and yet did terrible things. However, virtually all in the mainstream Christian community, regardless of denomination, deplored these acts and were very vocal in denouncing these people. The difference between the Christians and the Muslims is that while most American Muslims do not engage in terrorist acts, they have been virtually silent in doing anything about it. In my mind that makes them just as guilty.

      February 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  18. State of Tennessee

    Darn, I thought we solved the "Death to the infidels" problem be electing a Muslim immigrant as president! Probably best to go ahead with the hearings just in case rabid Muslim cult members are still set on killing everyone not like them.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  19. BillyBob117

    Why is islam the only religion supported by the left, the state run media and the Regime? Why do not the so called moderate mulsims living in this great country, ever openly and loudly protest the vile acts of their Brethren? Why are mulsims enternally offended? Unlike Imam Obama, I will never ever bow to islam.

    For God and Country

    February 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Bob Lobalw

      Because it is the only religion that openly hates capitalism, democracy, and the rights of the individual as much as they do.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • SurelyUjest

      What do you mean only religion supported by the left we support Buddhists, Animists, Wiccans, Druids, Agnostics, Hindi's, Jews, catholics etc....You only hear us support one side because that is the side your attack dogs are after right now.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • nicotoscani

      BillyBob, don't you have a sister waiting eagerly in the bedroom for you? People like you think the world owes you something because you have white skin. Soon this blessed country will belong to everybody and your voice will diminish into oblivion.

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

      The moderate muslims do openly and loudly denounce the acts of the radical islamists. The problem is you don't bother to listen. It is much easier for you to paint all muslims with the same brush.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • icu

      When is the last time you went out and protested the KKK? Or some neo-nazi group? shut up, bigot.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Country First, Party Second

      Why is islam the only religion supported by the left, the state run media and the Regime? Why do not the so called moderate mulsims living in this great country, ever openly and loudly protest the vile acts of their Brethren? Why are mulsims enternally offended? Unlike Imam Obama, I will never ever bow to islam.
      BillyBob117, Your one-sided thinking fed by FOXNews misinformation said it all. What is state run media, FOX? Islam is much more like Christian rights, most left has little or no interest in religion. You and tea-bagger want to turn this great nation into Christian Nation only. Please get educated.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • icu

      @BillyBob, ur an idiot. thank you that is all.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • JJMurray

      What I find most interesting in the responses to this post are how you folks just can't seem to refrain from lowering yourselves and making personal attacks the basis of your responses while blaming the poster for his narrow point of view, his racism, his bigotry, or whatever. If you don't agree with someone the adult thing is to point out where you disagree and why you feel their opinion is wrong and back that up with facts. Most of the responses here are worse than what the original poster wrote.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Ricky L

      Billy Bob and Bobby jr are lucky they live in America.

      Their vicious stupidity is tolerated only because we live in a land that believes in free speech.....even for fools.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  20. someoneelse

    I am much more afraid of armed hicks in the South than any Muslim group. Seriously, one of them turned a bulldozer into a tank and destroyed an entire town once. The security following Muslims now is more than ample, I honestly don't know what else you can do and not be the same as Saudi Arabia.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • BillyBob117

      You can move to the ME since you trust all muslims groups. I will help pack your trash bags.

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

      @Billybob117 just to point out some logisitcs for you. It is impossible to back a trash bag from the inside. Since your statement clearly puts you in the Southern Hick trash category I thought it would help you understand the difficulty in your offer.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • wjmknight

      I agree. All I hear from the south is how the Confederacy should have won the civil war, that they don't trust any kind of government, frankly, I know who the traitors are and they all have rednecks.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Brian

      @Billybob117 – If you hate Americans being able to express their opinions, why don't you move to a coutry where people aren't allowed the right to speak their mind. I'll help pack your double wide.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • concerned

      .....then like I always say. If you don't like the policies and beliefs here, then you can always move to another country. Oh wait. you probably can't because EVERY nation hates americans, regardless of what this country has done for others over the years......

      February 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • JJMurray

      If the KKK was still a major factor in the world today i would agree with you, but it's not. What is the number one source of terrorism in the world today? It is not Christians, or Buddhists, or people who are proud of their southern heritage, it is Muslim extremists. I believe that American Muslims by and large are not being radicalized but some are and so there is as good a reason to look into this issue as their was for Homeland Security to warn about former military personnel being a threat to the country.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
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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.