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US Senate hearing focuses on Muslims civil rights

Inquiry to ensure Muslims are not targets of bigotry

Less than three weeks after a divisive Congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, the U.S. Senate held a hearing on Tuesday about discrimination against Muslims in America. The hearing is the first to focus on the civil rights of Muslims.

Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate who presided over the hearing, said, “It is our government’s responsibility to prevent and punish this kind of illegal discrimination. And it is incumbent upon all American who love this nation and the values our Constitution protects to make it clear to defend the civil rights of our Muslim neighbors are as important as the rights of Christians, Jews, and non-believers.”

Though Durbin denied he is responding to Republican Rep. Peter King’s hearings on homegrown terrorism, he used his opening remarks to remind people that King once said, “There are too many mosques in this country.” Such inflammatory speech creates a “fertile climate for discrimination,” said Durbin. He added that the point of Tuesday’s inquiry was to ensure Muslims are not targeted for bigotry.

The hearing drew harsh criticism from King, who told a U.S. network, “This just perpetuates the myth that somehow Muslims are the victim of September 11.”

Senate Republicans on the panel emphasized the importance of protecting religious freedom, yet insisted the threat of Islamic terrorism is imminent and the Muslim community has a responsibility to aid in the fight against it.

“Efforts to recruit and radicalize young Muslims must be dealt with. To the American Muslim Community, I will stand with you, but will have to help your country… Get in this fight and protect your young people and your nation from radicalization,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl added, “Political correctness cannot stand in the way of identifying those who would do us harm. . . I would think Muslim Americans would feel a special obligation to help in such investigations.”

Kyl questioned the premise of the hearing in light of statistics showing that 72% of religious hate crimes were driven by anti-Jewish sentiment, compared to 8% stemming from anti-Muslim bias. Durbin countered with figures demonstrating that employment discrimination against Muslims had mushroomed since 9/11 to 25% of total cases, an increase of 150%.

Witnesses included former and current Justice Department officials, a Catholic bishop, and a prominent legal advocate. Farhana Khera, head of a Muslim Advocates, said bigotry against Muslims has “life and death consequences.” She recounted the story of a taxi driver who was stabbed by a passenger after being asked if he was Muslim.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez related other examples of hate crimes against Arab and Muslims Americans, starting with the case of a Sikh man shot to death while pumping gas in Arizona four days after 9/11 because he was mistaken for a Muslim.

“While nearly a decade has passed since 9/11, we continue to see a steady stream of violence and discrimination targeting Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South-Asian communities,” said Perez.

He continued, “The headwind of intolerance manifests itself in many different ways.”

Since 9/11 there have been 800 incidents of vandalism, arson, violence and threats against people thought to be Muslim or Arab, according to the Department of Justice. Muslims comprise less than 1% of the total population in the U.S., but are targeted in 14% of all cases of religious discrimination.

An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of Republicans, 27% of Democrats, and 40% of independents in the U.S. feel “unfavorably” toward Islam. However, as Michael Warren, a journalist with the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, pointed out, the same study found that 62% of those polled said Muslims should “have the same rights as other group” to build places of worship in America.

“The very interesting, very American aspect of this picture is that American support freedom of religion, but we also support freedom of speech and disagreeing about religions, and that’s a point that’s been lost in this conversation,” said Warren.

Efforts to recruit and radicalize young Muslims must be dealt with. To the American Muslim Community, I will stand with you, but will have to help your country… Get in this fight and protect your young people and your nation from radicalization

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham