As we reach almost a decade of anti-Muslim American sentiment in America since 9/11, some in our government continue to perpetuate false stereotypes about the Muslim American community.
A case in point: NPR reported on March 9 that “independent companies that provide counterterrorism training to law enforcement officials” offer short training courses by unqualified instructors who make blanket statements about profiling a Muslim terrorist (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/09/134374232/new-concern-about-bias-in-counte... ). These trainings focus on identifying certain religious practices as indicating a person’s “dangerousness” and use stereotypes to falsely link radical religious beliefs and radical ideas to terrorism. The good news about this flawed approach is that officials in Columbus, Ohio cancelled a training class when they realized the information it provided simply was not accurate.
This revelation came just before Congressional hearings called by Rep. Peter King on “Islamic Radicalism,” hearings sure to mislead and confuse the general public regarding the Muslim American community. King, who has said that there are “too many mosques in the country,” did not invite the leaders of any of the country's large Muslim organizations, nor did he call anyone from law enforcement (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-yn/content/article/2011/03/09/AR2011030...). Yet King adamantly asserts that the Muslim American community is not cooperative enough with law enforcement – without citing an actual instance. Fox News reports that King explained “if he thought members of the Irish, Jewish, or any other ethnic community were exhibiting threatening signs, he would launch an investigation into them as well” – as if blanket targeting of one group would be okay if another group were targeted, too (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/03/09/battle-lines-drawn-king-heari...).
The hearings are reminiscent of McCarthyism or – as we might put it a half-century later – represent McCarthyism 2.0. To say that the actions of one or a few are indicative of an entire ethnic community goes against the principles our country stands for. Before calling out the Muslim-American community for extremism, Rep. King would be well-advised to consider the wellsprings of some actual home-grown terrorists – like Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a white 32-year-old mother out of Colorado who admitted to aiding a terror cell. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/jamie-paulinramirez-set-t_n_832...) Or Kevin William Harpham, a former Fort Lewis soldier and supporter of white supremacist groups just arrested for allegedly planting a bomb along the route of Spokane's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade.
As I think about King’s hearings, I cannot help but be reminded of Mr. Jawad Khaki’s testimony in Olympia last month during a hearing on SB 5048, a measure to rein in unwarranted surveillance of political and religious activities. Mr. Khaki, a naturalized Muslim American, testified about being racially profiled and stopped by local law enforcement for nearly an hour on a July 3, without any reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior. Despite his experiences, Mr. Khaki was proud to take part in a quintessential part of American democracy and present his story to lawmakers.
The most likely outcome of Rep. King’s hearing will be to further perpetuate the use of stereotypes and biases by law enforcement and the general public. And consider the long-term impact from, say, the perspective of an eighth-grader who personally knows no Muslims. What opinion will he/she draw from these hearings?
History has already taught us an important lesson – that questioning a community’s loyalty without any factual basis is an expensive proposition both in resources and in civil liberties. Our nation has gone down that path before and has rued having done so. Almost 70 years ago, in support of the internment of Japanese-American citizens, General John DeWitt testified the following to Congress:
I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty.… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty.… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.
Our diverse country is most successful when we are united. We need to relearn the lesson that when we stigmatize a religious or ethnic group, we lose sight of the values and principles upon which our country was founded.