On Thursday, March 10th, Congressman Peter King of New York held Congressional hearings 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 in the US 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 itself to be as fully committed to American values as any other faith group. From condemning terrorism to serving in Congress, from fighting in the military to participating in social justice, American Muslims are as dedicated to the preservation and improvement of our homeland as are all Americans.
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 its dangerous disloyalty to its new home and exacerbates the rhetoric and diatribe of anti-Muslim prejudice.
This isn’t the first time in American history that one group has been stereotyped with a broad and inaccurate caricature. As a rabbi, I have experienced prejudice and the demonization of my community, and as a leader who has devoted his professional life to interethnic and interfaith dialogue I know all too well the type of hateful rhetoric that too often enters our vernacular.
Through my work with my partner Russell Simmons at The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding I now have an even better understanding of the importance of all communities standing up for each other whenever hate raises its ugly head. Russell and I 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, people of different backgrounds, cultures and faiths.
Congressman King has failed to recognize this most important American tradition. Instead, he has forced American Muslims to stand alone defending themselves. Americans should never have to stand alone. This is why Americans from all walks of life should be 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.”
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.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is the president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and author of "Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community."
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