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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. nme421

    This article has been reposted on Religious Freedom USA. To read more visit: http://religiousfreedomusa.org/

    February 23, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  2. Big Bob

    Wow, CNN!

    My post from 2:30 yesterday afternoon is still under moderation?

    February 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • HarshReality

      You mean being censored. NOT PC enough, I'll bet. More power to you, bro!

      February 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  3. Muneef

    That is what the Holy Book says;

    Al-Mumtahina sura 60:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    There is a goodly pattern for you in Abraham and those with him, when they told their folk: Lo! we are guiltless of you and all that ye worship beside Allah. We have done with you. And there hath arisen between us and you hostility and hate for ever until ye believe in Allah only – save that which Abraham promised his father (when he said): I will ask forgiveness for thee, though I own nothing for thee from Allah – Our Lord! In Thee we put our trust, and unto Thee we turn repentant, and unto Thee is the journeying. (4) Our Lord! Make us not a prey for those who disbelieve, and forgive us, our Lord! Lo! Thou, only Thou, are the Mighty, the Wise. (5) Verily ye have in them a goodly pattern for everyone who looketh to Allah and the Last Day. And whosoever may turn away, lo! still Allah, He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (6) It may be that Allah will ordain love between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (7) Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. (8) Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them – (All) such are wrong-doers. (9).

    February 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Muneef

      Al-E-Imran sura 03:
      And lo! there is a party of them who distort the Scripture with their tongues, that ye may think that what they say is from the Scripture, when it is not from the Scripture. And they say: It is from Allah, when it is not from Allah; and they speak a lie concerning Allah knowingly. (78) It is not (possible) for any human being unto whom Allah had given the Scripture and wisdom and the prophethood that he should afterwards have said unto mankind: Be slaves of me instead of Allah; but (what he said was): Be ye faithful servants of the Lord by virtue of your constant teaching of the Scripture and of your constant study thereof. (79) And he commanded you not that ye should take the angels and the prophets for lords. Would he command you to disbelieve after ye had surrendered (to Allah)? (80) When Allah made (His) covenant with the prophets, (He said): Behold that which I have given you of the Scripture and knowledge. And afterward there will come unto you a messenger, confirming that which ye possess. Ye shall believe in him and ye shall help him. He said: Do ye agree, and will ye take up My burden (which I lay upon you) in this (matter)? They answered: We agree. He said: Then bear ye witness. I will be a witness with you. (81) Then whosoever after this shall turn away: they will be miscreants. (82).

      February 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Evolved DNA

      Muneef.. you know I've looked and looked in my copy of the Life of Brian, but i cannot see the quotes you have listed?

      February 23, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Muneef

      E.DNA.

      Have no idea of what book is that joker....but my quotes are from the Holy Quran...!

      February 23, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • HarshReality

      I must have burned mine. I can't find it anywhere. Or maybe I flushed it, I can't remember.

      February 24, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  4. Lee Oates

    Unfortunately, it's what we have learned to expect from the Republicans. Racial and religious hatred, union busting, and resistence to a decent medical system that benefits the people and not the rich. Only a fool would vote for any of these people in the future. They are dismantling the United States a piece at a time.

    February 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan

    Want to know more about Islam check

    http://www.911Bible.com
    http://www.Islamhouse.com

    February 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  6. CDM

    And the answer is...

    Who was Joseph McCarthy!

    February 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  7. QS

    These Christian evangelical politicians do what they can in this country to keep the focus on Islam; meanwhile in Uganda, Christianity is being used as the moral standard to try to implement a bill that sentences gay people to prison, torture and/or death.

    Strange, why would we need to have hearings on radical Islam when there's radical Christianity happening right under our noses?

    So every time I hear a professed Christian talk so negatively about Islam I can't help but chuckle a bit.

    It is the height of self-righteousness and hypocrisy for any person, ANY person, of any religion to claim theirs is any better than another when they all rely on the same fundamentally flawed view of human rights.

    February 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Darren

      The Ugandan legislature does not pose a threat to people within US borders. Radical Islam, on the other hand, does. Furthermore, if American tried to get involved in Ugandan politics, the rest of the world would condemn us for sticking our noses into other people business again. But Americans and virtually all Christians condemn the actions of nations like Uganda.

      But, pointing out what Uganda does is simply a means to avoid the reality – the radical Islam is a huge problem. How can you deny this?

      February 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Big Bob

      It's a numbers game, QS. There are only 4 million people in the US who would describe themselves as Evangelical Christians.
      I'm an agnostic and I feel no threat from them. But I wasn't indoctrinated with cultural relativity as so many of our young folks are. There are over 1.5 Billion muslims. If only 10 precent of that population is radical? Well, you do the math.

      Uganda? Glad you brought it up. They are the only country in Africa without a raging AIDS epidemic. They must be doing something right.

      And if you're really concerned about your friends that happen to be gay, look into Islamic doctrine on that issue.
      Even the moderates aren't exactly what you would call "Gay Friendly". Oh well, give my regards to "Professor" chompsky!

      February 23, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Blackjackal

      @Big Bob

      Actually, there are more than 20 sub-Saharan African countries with lower rates of AIDS than Uganda. Uganda has a higher than average rate of AIDS for sub-Saharan countries.

      Don't make up your own facts.

      February 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  8. Big Bob

    Moderate muslim would like stoning for adultry, but they won't fly planes into buildings for it...

    February 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  9. Big Bob

    I read about the Muslim Human Shields for the Copts in Egypt, Kevin! Certainly not on CNN, though.

    It seems that Mubarak's son got that started. But here's a question. Why do you think it was necessary to do that?

    Answer: Egyptian muslims have been murdering and force-converting the Copts for years and the law has repeatedly looked away.

    February 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      Why judge an entire nation for what it's government does? Universally people say they hate Americans. Yet it is the minority that is racist and violent. Also, there is no real similarity between the east and west, the north and south.

      February 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  10. Big Bob

    C'mon! Let them here it.

    February 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  11. voice of reason

    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus going on before.
    Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
    Forward into battle see His banners go!
    Refrain:
    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus going on before.
    At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
    On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
    Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
    Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
    Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
    Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
    We are not divided, all one body we,
    One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.
    Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
    But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
    Gates of hell can never ’gainst that church prevail;
    We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
    Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
    Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
    Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King,
    This through countless ages men and angels sing.

    February 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  12. voice of reason

    And the ten years of Christian violence stops when? And as far as terrorism goes, how terrified do you think all those kids who were molested by priests were? And the priests said it was ok with god for them to do it.

    February 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  13. Babushe

    To assume that such investigations are not already happening in the U.S. is absurd. It is the job of the FBI to investigate any possible threat regardless of race or religion. However, It is safe to assume that many of these terrorists hide behind their cry of profiling knowing that as a country we are incredibly sympathetic to even the very impression of a civil rights violation.
    Based off of the actions of a few, the government has no choice but to be more vigilant. We know that there is a threat. In an effort to protect everyone the best they can, the government has a moral obligation to investigate groups that pose the largest threat. If the governement needs to ruffle a few feathers to protect the lives of innocent people isn't that morally correct?

    February 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  14. dscot

    I don't get the fuss. Willie Sutton claimed he robbed banks "because that's where the money is". Fair enough. And if you want to explore the causes and depth of violent religious extremism, you need to look into the Muslim religion - because that is where all the vast majority of the violence (and passive support for such violence) is at the moment. Child molestation is a problem prevalent mainly wth Catholic church leaders, so there should be hearings regarding molestation within the Catholic church. No need to bring in all the other churches, because they are not having a big problem in that area. The exact same reasoning applies to the Muslim religion. Violent extremism is comparatively rampant in Islam relative to other religions (at least at the moment), so it seems to make the most sense to investigate the problems where the problem are.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • YellowDog25

      I agree.............when a person thinks of a religion with a bunch of pedophil!e priests.............he now profiles that it's probably the catholic church. When you think of a religion that's extreme (believes all infidels so die)....you profile that it's probably Muslims.

      February 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  15. Seikninkuru

    What's the harm in looking at all religions in the committee? Why are people even arguing they shouldn't look into all religious extremism? Any rational person would want an all encompassing study, not one limited in scope.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  16. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Timoty McVeigh is to this date the number one homegrown terrorist, responsible for more American deaths (including children) than any other native-born American. He was an army veteran, a registered republican and NRA member, and was raised a Catholic.
    Surely we must hold a hearing about the extremism being in the army teaches you.
    Surely we must hold a hearing about how being a republican teaches you hatred of America.
    Surely we must hold a hearing about how being an NRA member (and fervent advocate!) teaches you complete disregard for human life.
    Surely we must hold a hearing about how Catholicism makes you violent.
    Afterall, Timothy McVeigh was all of these, and he was the number one homegrown terrorist. Surely it was his associations that made him committ the most heinous domestic terrorist act in history! All of those groups must be investigated!

    February 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Darren

      McVeigh didn't kill people in the name of being a republican, or in the name of catholicism, or in the name of the army.

      Islamic terrorists, however, kill in the name of Islam.

      So, your entire premise is horribly flawed

      February 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • HarshReality

      You forgot Custer.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  17. Henry Miller

    Oh, the irony! Mr King, himself a religious extremist, targeting "religious extremists!"

    Granted, the Christian extremists of the Republican Party don't seem to be as extreme as the Islamic extremists who make the headlines, but it's only a matter of degree.

    What Mr King apparently fails to understand that anyone who undertakes to impose, by force of law or threats of violence, religious views on those who do not share those views is a religious extremist.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Darren

      You think republicans are extremists because they believe some muslims are extremists, ergo, by your own stupid logic, you are a religious extremist.

      February 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • claybigsby

      @Darren: "You think republicans are extremists because they believe some muslims are extremists"

      no, most republicans believe that most muslims are extremists.....just check out foxnation.com

      February 23, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  18. Peter E

    The VAST majority of extremism and religious violence in America is perpetrated by Christians. In the South they burn and deface synagouges and mosques. The Westboro Baptist Church is so vile in their extremism they deface military funerals, and even other right-wingers have to step in to stop them. The Klan demonizes not just based on race but religion too, even attacking Catholics for not being true to their idea of a supreme race.
    And those are just the ones who explicitely admit they kill and destroy in the name of Christ.
    Of course, the media will always headline any violence if it's perpetrated by a muslim, always headlining the perpettrator's religion, even when the religion had nothing to do with the crime. But if it's a Christian killing fellow Americans, their religion is not even mentioned. Surely THAT religion had nothing to do with violence, right?

    February 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  19. Justice22

    What bothers me most about anyone that comes to America is that they all want to bring over with them oppressive ways, and not melt into the Melting Pot of Liberty & Freedom. Which only leaves me with one question; why did they leave their country in the first place if they were not going to embrace be a traditional american? If thats the case they should have stayed where they were and that goes for anyone not willing to embrace traditional american customs & ways. The US really needs to close its borders to all, because we already over crowded enough here in america.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Meow

      There is no melting pot, just ask Arizona.

      February 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • QS

      What's a "traditional American"? No such thing.

      February 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Meanwhile, in Egypt- tens of thousands of Muslims locked arms and formed a human shield to protect thousands of Christians while they held Sunday Mass in the square during the protests...and then the Christians closed ranks, held hands and shielded to the Muslims while they kneeled to pray.

    This made headline news all over the world...except here in the US.
    But then, blind hatred of everyone that is different and fear of the unknown is a really easy sell.. (just ask the tea party!)

    February 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Dallas5superrings

      Kevin, you seem to forget this is CNN you are reading

      February 22, 2011 at 2:15 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.