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. Nicky

    Love thy enemy? When you watch them behead someone you love, as they did to Daniel Pearl, when you see people jumping to their death from the WTC, then I'll ask you if you still love your enemy. But first, you must KNOW your enemy. Yeh, yeh, Christians killed many centuries ago, but today's Pope isn't ordering his flock to kill non-believers. Even that crazy church group that pickets the funeral,s as much as I abhor what they are doing, they haven't killed anyone. The crazy Florida pastor who threatened to burn the koran is far better than the muslims burning the churches in arab lands with the Christian parishoners inside. Yes, there is way too little tolerance in all religions, but none of the other major religions preach to kill anyone. There are no honor killings in Christianity or Judaism.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Apparently, you've never read the Old Testament. Judaism absolutely DOES order its followers to kill unbelievers.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Marc

      Wong, if you gonna write a response than at the bare minimum get your dumb facts right.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Franly Speaking..

      @Marc, here is what god says in the bible

      31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
      31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
      31:19 And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.

      If the facts dont concur with what you believe you call them dumb eh ?..

      February 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Marc

      What's precisely does this have to do with terrorism today committed by muslims all over the world. You must have the wrong forum, nincompoop.

      February 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  2. SKC

    Maybe the reason King doesn't want to expand these hearings is to avoid having to justify his long standing support for the IRA. I guess religious terrorism is bad unless its Irish Catholics doing it, eh?

    February 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Rob C.

      We should hold hearings when the IRA attacjs the US on US soil and killed more than 2,000 of our citizens in the last 20 years, until then stay focused on who has actually done that.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  3. Bullfeathers

    99% of all atheists practice atheism as a religion, not understanding the ideas they endorse and putting blind faith in scientists. Although I don't endorse any religion I find it easier to believe a god created everything than 11 dimensions infinite universes where anything and everything is possible. Oh, wait! Everything is possible except a god.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  4. Mojonaamdi

    Maybe we should stop invading their countries and they will stop hating us. we killed hundreds of thousands (not just a couple thousand) in Iraq and elsewhere and we are surprised that they don't like us. We support, encourage and supply their dictators in Egypt (ok Mubarak is now gone), in Bahiran etc., and then those dictators order their police and henchmen to shoot peaceful protestors with American made guns and bullets and we are surprised that they hate US. We let Israel get away with stealing land evey single day from the Palestinians, veto any resolution against the Apartheid policies of Israel, arm them to the teeth, and give them total and absolute support no matter how many international laws they break and how many Palestinians they kill and displace, and you wonder why they don't want to play with you.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Marc

      You should be reading other material and not just 'The Daily Jihad', this way you won't be so bloody ignorant, moron.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Darren

      Comments like this are why we need to be wary of islamic extremism . . . Mojonaamdi and the other extremists obviously see the US as the root of all the problems, instead of blaming their own idiotic leaders

      February 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  5. CDM

    Like him? He's our own, New York-grown bigot. There's plenty more in that Jack-in-the-box.

    I'd like to see a little investigation into the American evangelicals that went to Uganda, and turned West Africa into a garden of hatred. They were so extreme, no one in the US was paying attention, so they went to a nation, devastated by war, and turned them into a psychotic killing ground. Only a matter of time before we get another Rwanda over there.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  6. lou

    LIke BELIEF says, its his opinion, stupid, but his opinion.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  7. Marc

    The author states, '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'.
    What a left wing looney comparison only a complete idiot can utter.
    One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that the scourge of terrorism around the entire world today is performed by extremist muslims, that's the truth, like it or not.
    Not all muslims are terrorists, yet all terrorists are muslims.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Todd

      Guess you haven't been to Uganda lately. That is christian hatred at its finest. And if you don't know what is going on in Uganda, get your a$$ out of fox news and read a newspaper.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Marc

      My dear idiot Todd, so you find a few examples around the world that don't have muslim fingerprints wrapped firmly around it, maybe but at least 90% of terorrist incidents around the globe are muslim related. I suggest you get your nickel sized brain out of the sand, dumbkopf.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Mojonaamdi

      Marc.. guess you don't read too much. seen the report out of Europe recentlt.. teh one that stated that overteh last couple of years, ONLY .04% (Point zero four) of all terrorist acts in all of Europe was by Muslims. I am willing to bet that most of the others were not by Hindus, Sikhs, Bhuddists, either.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Marc

      You must be reading The Islamic Daily to come up with such ridiculous nonsense. Soon you'll be saying the London Underground bombings were IRA related and Spain's train bombings were Basque related. The muslims must love moron's like you.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bluto

      No, terrorism is terrorism, and it has a definition: "1. Government by intimidation as directed and carried out by the party in power in France during the Revolution of 1789–94; the system of the ‘Terror’ (1793–4): see terror n. 4." It's not a name Rush invented to call Muslims. You can't just say "terrorism is what I say it is" anymore than you can say "gasoline is a fruit." If you want to debate, LEARN THE TERMS.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Marc

      We are talking about today, pluto putz, not many moons ago.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Marc

      The facts and only the facts dictate that in this day and age, all muslims aren't terrorists yet most if not all terrorists (today) are muslims. I can't spell it out clearer than I just did. You might not like to hear the truth, 'cause the truth hurts. Sorry idiot.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  8. Omar

    The leaders of Germany, France, the UK and now the founder of Singapore have all taken political risks – within the past month and nearly in unison – by stating that there is a specific problem with "multiculturalism" when it comes to islam, i.e. classical, traditional islam is not compatible with basic poltical freedoms and representative government. . . . These are not extreme people. They are moderate leaders who are having to face some very difficult political realities. I'm sorry, Mr. Prothero, but there IS a very specific problem with normative islam – which is increasingly dominanted by Salafi thought – as well as the funding of radical schools and mosques in the west and elsewhere. In this case your misguided, politically correct call for "balance" sounds pretty artificial and will only obscure the real issues.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  9. Mark

    Look the "Mormons" aren't attacking America, The Muslims are and in Europe and Asia and on and on.

    Libtardsim is the inalienability to accept reality and rationalism..

    February 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  10. Balls McGhee

    all religion is stupid. why dont you all become atheists so we can move on in life. Jesus is just like Santa and the Easter Bunny – crap you are taught so you will behave as a child. Its time we stop this nonsense. just look at how Christians are "judging" other people all the time, and Muslims are supposedly killing everyone, and Israel is fighting Palestine over a crappy small peice of desert that is worthless other than the false belief that God was there, or some stupid thing like that. Get over it all, PLEASE!

    February 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Vivian

      Not all religion is stupid and the examples of Mao, Stalin. Pol Pot and others have made me a bit wary of the virtues of atheism.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  11. whatever 48

    When will some people in this country let go of PC bull crap!? I agree that there are extremists in every religion on the planet. Yet I don't see many other religious extremists declaring war on the US. You do with EVERY Islamic extremist group! I don't for a moment think all Muslims are terrorists. I think it's probably a very very small minority. Yet that minority is a MAJOR threat to our country. Like it or not, these extremist are using their religion as a recruitment opportunity for their cause. You can ignore this at the cost of more innocent lives, or you can wake up, let go of this PC ideology and address the real problem. The problem isn't Islam, the problem are those in this country and around the world using Islam as a tool for terrorism.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  12. dogcaps

    This kind of response is what makes any dialogue with a liberal impossible. Youhave nothing to say but hateful and vitriolic rhetoric and I will guarantee you that you have no basis, much less proof for your idiotic remarks. You are simply repeating something you read on The Huffinton Post or moveon.org. When I see remarks such as yours,I understand that you are incapable of thoughts on your own and need someone to provide talking points for you. Why don't you try reading a book or something before you post here again?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • MasterChefD

      Funny, I could copy+paste your post, replace "liberal" with "conservative", "Huffinton[sic] Post" with "Rush Limbaugh", "moveon.org" with "Sean Hannity", perhaps toss in Glenn Beck & Ann Coulter for good measure, and I think the argument would be just as stronger or even stronger.

      But I won't, because that's just childish and doesn't yield anything productive.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Bluto

      This kind of response is what makes any dialogue with a conservative impossible. You have nothing to say but hateful and vitriolic rhetoric and I will guarantee you that you have no basis, much less proof for your idiotic remarks. You are simply repeating something you heard on FOX news or Rush Limburger. When I see remarks such as yours,I understand that you are incapable of thoughts on your own and need someone to provide talking points for you. Why don't you try reading a book or something before you post here again?
      Works perfectly, and shows how empty his head must be.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  13. CitizenCollins

    Peter King is doing nothing more than showing how people in government are paranoid to what they cannot control. His desire to demonize one religion because he doesn't know it shows what small minded individuals get elected in America. This is an immature act by an immature person. I always hear they want an 'adult conversation' in Washington. But when will the adults show up?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  14. Georgie

    Why do left wing loons hate Christians but love Muslims?

    February 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • IzWithStoopid

      I'm probably in that group of "left wing loons" you are speaking of. Strange that I am a Christian, too. Oh yeah, I've always been taught that the central teaching of Jesus Christ is to love others as you want to be loved. Remember that passage from Matthew 5, you know...the one where Jesus tells his followers to reject the notion of "an eye for an eye" and to instead "turn the other cheek"? I guess my Christianity just isn't the same as yours. Sad.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Matt Parks

      I'm also a liberal and a Christian. I don't hate Muslims because Jesus taught us to love everyone, especially your enemy.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Matt Parks

      If you consider yourself a Christian, you might want to have another look at the part of the Bible with Jesus in it again..... There's some things you're missing.....

      February 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Just Sayin

      @IZWITHSTOOPID so you post this -

      Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Jared Loughner (recent Tuscon, AZ shooting), Minutemen, Weather Underground, Branch Davidian (Waco, TX), Eric Robert Rudolph (Olypmic Park bombing)....can't say if they any are a "jew, christin, hindu, etc", but none are Muslum.

      But you leave this out

      Khalid Almihdar, Majed Moque, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Hani Hanjour – American Airlines Flight 77

      Satam M.A. Al Suqami, Waleed M. Alsherhri, Wail M. Alsheri, Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz – American Airlines Flight 11

      Marwan Al-Shehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alsheri, Fayez Rashid Ahmed Al Qadi Banihammad – United Airlines Flight 175

      Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi, Ahmed Alnani, Ziad Samir Jarrah – United Airlines Flight 93

      All of the are Muslim

      February 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Just Sayin

      @IZWITHSTOOPID – You seem very quick to condem non muslims..... and also call yourself a Christian.... The fact is that there are sick people everywhere. For some reason some are sicker than others.... I agree with Matt ... you need to take off your liberal hat and read your bible then....... You seem to think that Christianity is a cafeteria .... where you can pick and choose what you want!

      February 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • SarahPhalin

      Don't hate Christians, don't hate Muslims, don't hate jews or any other religious group.
      I believe in letting everyone do their own thing.
      I do not like extremists of any religion trying to impose their twisted views on me however. Whether thats terrorists such as Al Qaeda and their twisted interpretation of Islam, extremist Jews in Israel preventing any chance at peace talks or extremist Christians in the US trying to force their social and religious beliefs on me.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Bluto

      Why do Right wing loons molest little children?

      February 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  15. novy

    Unbelievable! If Islamic etremism is not controlled it will overrun the country like it haas been doing for centuries. What will it take for people to realise that Islam's primary objective is to conquer the world and subject its citizens to the Sharia laws. CNN yesterday had an Islamic Cleric who is a follower of Osama Bin Laden and who will demonstrate in Washington – their objective to force government to recognize the Sharia Laws and become subject onto it. He blatently declared that he and his followers will not be satisfied until the Islamic flag flies over the white house, and we tolerate this? He should be deported – immediately along with his followers for treason.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. IzWithStoopid

    @ Proud kaffir – Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Jared Loughner (recent Tuscon, AZ shooting), Minutemen, Weather Underground, Branch Davidian (Waco, TX), Eric Robert Rudolph (Olypmic Park bombing)....can't say if they any are a "jew, christin, hindu, etc", but none are Muslum.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • holocaust

      Most of these guys where in fact...non-religous.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • sharky

      And none of them are in extremist groups hell bent on starting uprisings. Lone killers vs actual groups. BIG DIFFERENCE. Minutemen? Why don't you go join border patrol and work the border then since you oppose the minutemen that are ONLY targeting illegals, but I guess you want them in the country. I guess USSCole, Embassy bombings, 9/11, WTC first bombing, shoebomber, underwarebomber, times square bomber, Ft. Hood, Al Qaeda, Cartoon attacks and world wide riots, the possible koran burnings, that did not happen, worldwide protests and attacks. You really need to do a lot more research.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • asgard

      These criminals did not commit their crimes for their religious extremism.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  17. John

    I am offended by the notion that Religious Extremism is only involved in the Muslim Community. I was affected deeply by 9/11. I was affected only because I lived in a world where I believed that nothing could touch America. But now, I understand that religion is a powerful motive that influences so many people to do such crazy things. Every race and every religion (except for maybe Hinduism) has had violence as a prominent part of their history. KKK, Black Panther, Crusades, 9/11, etc... Just because a part of the race or religion does something insulting, doesn't mean that the entire body is responsible. Only part of it. That is why I hate racial profiling and anything that only increases the focus onto a group. It's just plain wrong.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • sharky

      If profiling did NOT happen, how would you ever expect to capture criminals?

      February 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Josh Frankel

      KKK and Black Panthers are poor examples, as they are not strictly religious groups. You're right to a certain extent: at the time of the Crusades, it would be wise to be wary around Christian groups. At the current time (height of Islamic extremism), Islamic extremist organizations are what you need to look out for. It's sad to see religious leaders take advantage of their followers, but it is happening all over the globe.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • will

      Only someone truly ignorant would even call the Black Panthers violent and place them among the others you listed. What mainstream America does not understand, or doesn't want too' is that the Panthers were about self help. You don't hear about the afterschool programs, or the programs for single parent homes. How many people have the Panthers drug out of their beds lynched in front of wife/children and watch the house get burned down? How many buildings have the Panthers bombed?

      February 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  18. Mark from Middle River

    Michael T.

    "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. "

    Wow.....that was good. Much respect and acknowledgment to a great post.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  19. Mark B.

    If you don't think they are the clear and present danger, you are a fool.

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

      The clear and present danger is the fact that religion plays too big a role in this gov't. It's not individuals muslims they're attacking but the religion. Stop Islamazation of America? THere's a committee for this? There was a committee for stopping religious/racial integration as well. It was called the KKK. Most of this country is biggoted. I blame the idiots that listen to bigots claiming to be patriotic or god's middleman without even questioning it.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • ANooYawkuh

      Because of the Westboro idiots, we can say that all Christians post a clear and present danger. Just like all Muslims. And all HIndus. And all Jews. And atheists, too, for that matter. Hell, every single one of the seven billion people on planet Earth poses a clear and present danger and a risk of terrorism. Better squash them all and bring in the robots...

      February 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • BostonBill

      I agree they may well present a real danger. That cannot be denied. That dose not mean that other religions aren't just as capable of terrorism.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  20. joe fearon

    Muslins can fly to sweden.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:43 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.