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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. Josh

    The author didn't make it through one sentence without perverting the statistics of the study he cites. The 'slim majority' he speaks of is actually 56% in favor of the hearings versus 29% opposed. Even if it was 56% to 44%, that's a large statistical majority in regards to just about any modern political issue.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  2. Ob Server

    Thank you JonathanL, for your lucid, reasoned, and well-stated position. Stephen Prothero is either ignorant of what is happening in the world and has a naive all-groups-are-the-same-regardless-of-their-ideology stance, or is a shill who is trying to shape public opinion. I think most Americans are more in line with JonathanL – not unreasonable xenophobes, but concerned about safety and current events.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  3. blake

    Mr. Prothero, what other religious group (besides Islam, where jihad is a core tennant of their religious beliefs paradigm) do you see as a threat to the physical safety of Americans? I grow weary of the out of touch with the real world, PC babel from folks like you out of higher education.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Absurd II - Time to Learn about islam

    I was in the WTC on 9/11 – I know who the enemy is – and it's not Christians, or Hindus or Buddhists or Copts... What amazes me is that after almost 10 years, most US leaders – in politics & media – have not bothered to learn exactly what islam is teaching. You'd be horrified. They want to create a global radical islamic caliphate & force sharia on the world – nothing less. Sharia is a body of laws that is simply totally inconsistent with the freedoms we enjoy and cherish in this country. Here we can practice or not practice whatever religion we want. We can walk down the street, hand in hand with whomever we want, whenever we want. As a woman, I do not have to cover my entire body in public. I can go to school, run for office, even enter the military. I can enjoy music, theater, TV. Did you know mohammed prohibits music? Can you imagine life without music? So before you defend them, learn about what the koran teaches – the hate, intolerance, the violence. Most of all, before you believe a word they say, learn about taqiyya – the islamic principle of holy deception, koranic dissimulation: deceiving by concealment or omission, half-truths (Qur’an 3:28 & 16:106 justifies religious deception).

    February 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  5. rivirivi

    At this time, in this century, in this very moment, a whole group of children and adults who are born in Islamic countries are abused so deeply that Most of their minds cannot make up ONE single independent thought. Look at Gadhafi killing whomever is against him- shooting people inside the ambulances who came to help the wounded. Egypt, Yemem, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, North Africa, etc, everywhere you see over there, you will see millions of women being abused, cut, mutilated at 12, sold, gifted to elder men, thrown acid when trying to learn to read or write. Now, is happening now!, let's not forget that in the middle of all these, men and boys brainwashed into hate, drama, conflict, killing, bombing, bombing with nails, cutting throats, committing suicide, attacking other humans ALL OVER this world, and YOU have the gonads to say that their religion should not be talked about? or blamed? well I blame it! and I blame all of them! Except for a few thousand (who are being shot, killed and bombed as we speak) who are against their usual brain-dead-no-compassion-crazy thoughts against the rest of the world- malady. So there!

    February 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  6. Eric

    Yea, cause you know those extremist Jains are causing all sorts of troubles.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  7. Ben

    Most people do not realize that secretly most Muslims support the 911 attacks. I have many muslims acquaintances who have privately confided in me about the "blesseth" 911 attacks. I am of south asian origin, so I think they assume I am muslim too. Muslims may condemn terrorism in public, but have a completely opposite view in private.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Alverant

      You mean like how the anti-abortion mob was secretly happy when Dr.Tiller was murdered by a christian?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  8. runswithbeer

    There are FAR MORE Christian Right Wing Fundamentalist training with fully automatic weapons in America than there are extremest Muslims worldwide. Probably more in Texas alone. The Gun range two miles from my house sounded like WW3 had already started this weekend. I estimate 2-4 shots per second ALL FRIGGIN WEEKEND. Who put these nuts in power in Congress????

    February 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • danny

      There probably are not as many people in Texas as there are islamic extremist in the world i what you meant to say. There are probably not as many people living in the US as there are islamic terrorists in the world is a more accurate statement.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • conradshull

      Utter horse droppings nonsense. Statement too blazingly stupid to respond beyond this.

      February 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  9. Pliny

    Let's pretend that today is September 12, 2001.

    Now what were you saying?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Alverant

      Let's pretend it was the day the OK Federal building was attacked. Let's pretend it was the day after the KKK burned down a black church. Let's pretend it's the day after Mathew Shepard was brutally murdered. Let's pretend it's the day after the Branch Davidians murdered police officers in the name of God.

      Now what were you saying?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • islam represented

      Did you know that 50 muslim families were killed in that plane? If someone said they are christian and killed 1000 people would i represent your whole religion? would you discriminate against christianity because some retard put a cross on and mudered inocent people? didn't think so. so stop this american ignorance!!

      February 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • arjun

      he was saying - dont JUST go after muslim extremists. Congress should target any religious extremists in the country, including christians - so I'm wondering, if you actually read the article, or you just didn't understand its plainly stated message?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Eric

      All religions are bad for humankind.

      Also the total number of Muslims killed on 9/11 was around 60 or so, not even close to "50 families". Even if it was a lot more the hijackers could do no wrong in the eyes of their own beliefs. Kill infidels = good. Kill innocent Muslims in the process = good, since they're going to heaven anyways, they're doing them a favor by bring them to paradise with them.

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

      @islam represented

      >>Did you know that 50 muslim families were killed in that plane? If someone said they are christian and killed 1000 people would i represent your whole religion?<<

      No. But I sure as heck would look a lot closer at Christianity and it's teachings to see if that had causality on the killers actions. If it did, then I would indeed start profiling Christians.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  10. Richard Mavers

    Once again, a real issue is ignored so editorial columnists can whine about a fake issue. Real issue: spreading Islamic terrorism. Fake issue: politician points out one group of people have more terrorists than others.

    I've given up trying to find sense in these opinion pieces.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Alverant

      No the real issue is spreading or conservative religious terrorism. The fake issue is the idea only muslims kill in the name of god.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  11. davec.0121

    People seem to forget that up until fairly recently, state religions were the norm in the Christian world, and a whole series of particularly brutal wars were fought to enforce whatever particular orthodoxy was in vogue at that time and place. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were not conducted by discussion, and the Thirty Years War depopulated large parts of Germany as the Catholics fought the Protestants. Closer to home, the South used Christianity to justify slavery, and forcible conversions of non-Christians to Christianity was a hallmark of colonialism. Present-day, we see Christian religioius fanatics advocating and in many cases perpetrating violence against those (including other Christians) with whom they disagree. There is zero danger of the 'Islamization' of the United States, just as there is zero danger that Al-Qaida will 'destroy' the U.S. and these hearings are intended to appeal to the bigots, the fearful and the conspiracy nuts.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Darren

      So, because Christians committed violence hundreds or thousands of years ago, we should ignore the obvious threat right to the world happening right now?

      Americans blah blah blah oppressors blah blah blah CRUSADES!! blah blah blah SLAVERY blah blah blah AMERICA IS THE BIGOT blah blah blah I'm self righteous and trying to impress somebody blah blah blah and make them think I'm sensitive

      February 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  12. Fred Evil

    Rep. Peter King == Joseph McCarthy

    His backers WILL be embarrassed by him, but they won't have the sense to be so until a good decade or two has passed. Another dark time in US history.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Darren

      You mean like that dark time during WWII cause by idiots refusing to recognize the threat posed by the Nazi and the rest of the Axis?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  13. gfgfdgfdgf

    it would be foolish to ignore a common factor in almost all terrorist

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

      You mean how they're religious conservatives? You know like the Tea Party.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  14. Michael T.

    There are two issues here: 1) the fact that at this time in history, religiously-speaking, it is only radical Islam that is posing a national and international threat to both the US and all other countries and 2) that this country has a history of severe bigotry towards anything other than male WASP's. The political left is over-concerned with the fear of anti-Muslim bigotry that they have become apologists for Islamists. The political right correctly understands the threat but ignores the existence of moderate Islam and the need for treating all religions the same. Therefore, we have the historical conflict between 'useful idiots' and patriotic militants repeating itself.

    Sadly, the issue will be framed by the extremists on both sides: liberals choose to see the right as neanderthal hate-filled bigots who hate Islam and the right sees the left as useful idiots (a Stalin/Mao concept and phrase) filled with such self-hate and loathing that their expression of such is to utterly destroy Western Democracy at any and all cost while trying to endlessly prove their liberal creds.

    Santayana said 'Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them'. Smart man. Liberals need to understand that militant Islam is a serious and credible threat that needs to be stopped or else Western civilizations will quickly fall. It is already falling in Europe and starting to here. Conservatives need to understand that the threat is inherent in ALL religions and thus even though it is currently concentrated in militant Islam, Christians are still committing genocide as recently as the Serbs in the war in Bosnia-Hertzevoginia under Clinton.

    Only when we consciously know our weaknesses and actively work to counter them will humanity evolve!

    February 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Dave

      FInally an intelligent response! You go the issue right. There is the short-term threat of militant Islam versus the long-term threat of erosion of religious equality in the US. I would simply add that the threat or coordinated Islamism in the US is much more severe than Christian terrorism as Christian terrorism is not a mass movement but simply by small, isolated groups or individuals whereas Islamic terrorism relates to the philosophy of Islamism where the destruction of the far enemy and the restoration of the true caliphate is part of a specific philosophy with many writers and preachers supporting it.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Darren

      Good piece. But you made a pretty big error

      The genocide in Serbia was not in the name of Christianity, as you asset. It was one ethnic group murdering others because of their ethnicity. Christianity had no part in it. Muslim extremists, on the other hand, expressly murder in the name of their religion.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Michael T.

      Darren,

      Thank you for your correction. I will try harder to be more accurate in the future.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  15. TheMovieFan

    Peter King must want to be Sarah Palin's running mate.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  16. Pat

    Gee, I'm devastated at the news that Muslims are getting treated unfairly. Where's a tissue?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  17. MJB

    Seems though that the radical islamic muslims are the only ones that want to take over the world and have stated multiple times, and is supposedly in their koran that they want the heads of all gentials and the jews. In Minnesota the somalians that have moved there won't pick up certain people in their cabs. When they work in grocery stores they won't sell you anything with pork in it. I thought this was our country. how far do we have to bend over. Do we have to continue to appease
    everyone that lands here from all these other countries to get the freebies.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Alverant

      You act like christians haven't done the same thing. What about christians who work in drug stores who refuse to sell certain products? What about christian teachers who replace science with creationism? What about christian politicians who want to pass laws that bend this secular nation towards theocracy? Why should christians be appeased and given a free pass for doing the same things muslims are demonized for?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dean

      You said it yourself: "RADICAL muslims". There are extremists everywhere who claim they want to take down any number of societies – including those who want to eliminate Islam! Why isn't *that* extremism?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • danny

      Do not go to their store-shop somewhere else.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      MJB, just so you know, Alverant is an idiot.

      February 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  18. Peter

    We should look for violent, religious extremists in ALL religions in the USA. Muslim, Christian, Jew, you name it. Radical factions exist in ALL religions and are ALL dangerous. Many white power groups use the name of Jesus Christ and the symbols of Christianity, for example.

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

      Please! Christians are not blowing themselves up for their religion. Also, we are not spending billions in a war against radical Christianity. The true nature of the lack of Muslims to denounce their radical arm makes most non Muslims very leery of the whole religion. If moderates were so against the radicals and the image it gives the Muslim religion as a whole then why don't the ostracize them? Is it fear or is it tolerance of the their beliefs?

      February 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      Another moronic poster. There should be an IQ minimum before allowing people to spout crap like this. Go back to high school and graduate this time.

      February 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  19. Seb

    First off, I am an immigrant, a legal one, I am an independent, not a lefty nor a righty.
    I am disturbed at the blind "left" who think we should be nice to a Religion that carries nothing but a backwards, dark ages rhetoric.
    I am from a country that once was beautiful, prosperous and friendly, The Netherlands!
    For decades Muslims were saying that they would take over, but our left Government just chuckled, now...they are the worst group of people my country has as inhabitants.
    MY city is know to be a hotbed for Islamic extremist recruiting, don't believe me? google: Eindhoven, Islamic recruitng and hit any link that pops up.

    I am all for a liberal life and Freedom but there are limits to sticking your head in the sand when it comes to a global spread of hate by Islam.

    Freedom for all is a great thing, too bad the moderate Muslims don't fight the good fight with those who strive for the goal of freedom.

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

      The left isn't "sticking its head in the sand", the political right is. They're the ones who act like extermism only happens in Islam. Christianity should be included in the dangerous extermists category. But the political right wants to make nice with these extermists because it's a major part of their voting block.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      "I am disturbed at the blind "left" who think we should be nice to a Religion that carries nothing but a backwards, dark ages rhetoric."
      Then why are you stopping with Islam? That describes virtually every religion out there!

      February 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • People dont rep. islam

      really...People that call them selves muslims and kill innocent people represent no religion. Some one could put on a cross murder thousands, does that represent your whole religion? would you say that all christians are extremests and mass murderers? didnt think so. Islam is a perfect religion. People are not perfect and do not represent the religion as it is, they are just followers that sometimes go off track. Please stop discriminating against muslims you know it is against all that you have learned.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Johnny

      Kudos for a statement that is real. These other leftists have no clue. They live a protected life and have ideal of the hate and violence out there. Just like the people on that Yacht that got killed. Thinking they would bring love to the area and totally ignore the danger and the reality of the situation. There is a difference between compassion and outright stupidity. Oh lets pet the pretty Tiger cause he is so pretty! Don't fret if you lose an arm.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • DMcK

      Agree with Seb. Why stop with Islam – could it be because Islamists within USA are the ones plotting to take over USA by physical bombings or stealth jihad (joining ACLU, gaining political positions, immigration,etc). In Seb's country Geert Wilders stepped forth to try to stop Islamization there and has had to have his life guarded 24/7 for years due to Islamic murder threats. Netherlands is under terrible threat – in many places western-dressed women fear to walk the streets due to ridicule, shouts & threats by muslims. Don't be blind here in USA, address the threat now plus stop all muslim immigration!

      February 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Shane

      Yeah, now we have Islamabad, Ca, NY, and DC

      February 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      Seb, just so you know, Alverant is an idiot.

      February 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  20. JonathanL

    So profile everyone? Waste of money. I know on Long Island from Muslim friends of mine that there are radical influences behind (supporting monetarily etc,) several of the Mosques that have been built in recent years, and they fear it. Let's cut to the chase and put common sense and safety above political correctness. We do not want to allow radical political extremism backing non-profit tax-free religious oprganizations. We do not want to move toward tribal law and a sectarian state. I am for separation of Church and state, why not separation of Mosque and state? Make sure they are obeying the law. Make sure we are safe. What's the big deal. If we had unlimited funds we wouldn't have to profile, but tough luck, we don't.

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

      There are FAR MORE Christian Right Wing Fundamentalist training with fully automatic weapons in America than there are extremest Muslims worldwide. Probably more in Texas alone. The Gun range two miles from my house sounded like WW3 had already started this weekend. I estimate 2-4 shots per second ALL FRIGGIN WEEKEND. Who put these nuts in power in Congress??

      February 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Dean

      Wow. What a completely senseless reply that was. Miss the point much? Focusing *only* on Islam is, as the author states, just another form of bigotry. Yes, there are extremist elements in the US – but they are not restricted to one religion. There already *is* a separation of 'mosque and state' – because the actual Amendment says "Congress shall make NO LAW regarding the establishment of RELIGION, or prohibiting the FREE EXERCISE thereof". Nothing about churches at all – just about religion in *general*.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Alverant

      "We do not want to allow radical political extremism backing non-profit tax-free religious oprganizations."
      Unless you including christian organizations that list, you're ignoring common sense and the first ammendment.

      For example the gov of Kentucky is giving tax-payer assistance to a creationist museum. Why is that being allowed?

      February 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Johnny

      What a politically correct wussie Stephen is. Oh lets ignore the fact we are in a war overseas with radical Islam. If radical Islam wasn't a threat. then why are we spending billions in Afghanistan? Lets hide and sugar coat it to ignore the threat. This type of action makes this country at risk. All it is going to take is another attack at home and watch people throw out the weak that are trying to ignore the problem. And that is the scary part for Muslims. The innocent will be thrown in with the real problem radicals. That is how genocides are started.
      Address the problem now involving the Muslim community to separate the trouble makers from the good.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Shane

      18 yr old black kid riding through the projects in a cadillac w/ gold rims. boom, boom, boom. We're supposed to ignore the obvious and because that would be profiling. Alah akbar, boom ...alah akbar, boom... alah akbar boom. Noooo that couldn't have anything to do with all those peaceful Muslims and their "schools" where noone learns how to read & write.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • JonathanL

      FYI – From my last post , from the first mention of Chabad up until "white house" I was copying from an Islamic website what else?

      February 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      Jonathan, just so you know, runswithbeer is an idiot.

      February 22, 2011 at 6:41 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.