Today Congressman Peter King of New York will hold a Congressional hearing on “the radicalization of America’s Muslim community.”
Will Congressman King’s hearings lead to greater understanding or greater conflict? Will the discussions shed greater light on the mosaic of American society, or narrow our definition as to what constitutes a good American?
If we want to be true to our finest traditions and to values such as inclusion and pluralism, community and consensus, we must do whatever we can to ensure that the hearings serve not to induce fear, but to broaden awareness.
Our country’s Muslim community has consistently shown themselves to be as fully American as any other faith group. From condemning terrorism to serving in Congress, from fighting in our military to participating in social justice, American Muslims are as dedicated to the preservation and improvement of our homeland as are we.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we have witnessed the exponential growth of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination. Many in our society believe that terrorists and extremists represent the Islamic faith, a religion of 1.4 billion people. This ignorance has led to the misperception that Muslims are a threat to American society. Targeting a single community implies their dangerous disloyalty to our nation and exacerbates the rhetoric and diatribe of anti-Muslim prejudice.
This isn’t the first time in our history that one group has been stereotyped with a broad and inaccurate caricature. As an African-American and as a rabbi, we have experienced prejudice and the demonization of our respective communities.
The two of us have learned the importance of standing up for the other. We have embraced the principle that a people who fight for their own rights are only as honorable as when they fight for the rights of all people. In this spirit, a community can only defend itself when it is joined by friends and neighbors by people of different backgrounds, cultures and faiths.
Congressman King has failed to recognize this American tradition. Instead, he has forced American Muslims to stand alone defending themselves. Americans should never stand alone and this is why Americans from all walks of life are prepared to testify on behalf of their Muslim brothers and sisters.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often remarked, “An injustice against anyone anywhere must be the concern of everyone everywhere.”
We call on Congressman King to open the hearings up to the voices of non-Muslims.
This is what we do as Americans. We reach out and help our neighbors during difficult times. We urge Congressman King to ensure that the hearings reflect the best of this American spirit which keeps aglow the light of understanding and caring.
Russell Simmons, founder of DefJam Records and Rabbi Marc Schneier are the chairman and president, respectively, of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization dedicated to fighting intolerance and promoting understanding between ethnic communities.