By: Dr. Aref Assaf
View original article first Published on NJVoices.com
Guest columnist in the Sunday edition of the Record, 3/13/2011
“The bottom line is this: When it comes to preventing violent extremism and terrorism in the United States, Muslim Americans are not part of the problem; you’re part of the solution.” Denis McDonough, deputy national security advisor to President Obama, March 6, 2011
Hollywood recently awarded an Oscar to the movie “The King’s Speech” in recognition of its artistic distinction. I hereby award Congressman Peter King (R-NY) an Oscar for “King’s Hate Speech” – for his lifelong bigotry, and for fostering hate.
Free speech is at the core of an open democratic society. We American Muslims have nothing to hide about our loyalty to this country and about our readiness to sacrifice our lives to ensure its security. We welcome serious discussions about the causes and effects of extremism amongst our youth whether it is drug addiction, moral misconduct or terrorist activities. But I would argue that people of conscience must be ready to categorically oppose speech that demonizes our humanity, questions our loyalty and doubts our patriotism. When free speech becomes hate speech, all of us must rise up.
The Congressional hearings chaired by Peter King are supposed to determine the extent of radicalization amongst American Muslims and the response to the threat or lack thereof, of the Muslim leaders. The hearings are premised on questionable claims the Congressman has been touting for years: That American Muslims, especially their “leaders,” have not been cooperative in the fight to eradicate the scourge of ‘homegrown’ terrorism. That mosques in America are a run by disloyal and radical imams with ties to foreign and illegal entities. And finally, that American Muslims and their faith is a threat to America’s religious and national fabric. These claims are at the core of Islamophobia in the US which the hearings seek to make mainstream and to legitimize. The very title of the hearings renders illegitimate any credibility accorded to them.
The hearings are a farce because the intended conclusions have already been arrived at by Cong. King. He needs no government agency to prove him wrong about the cooperation American Muslims have shown in preventing illegal actions. In fact, both government officials and independent researchers have demonstrated that a significant portion of leads in terror-related plots have come directly from American Muslims. Since 9/11, among the 120 cases, American Muslims were the initial source of voluntary information in 48- far exceeding the number uncovered by law enforcement agencies.
Contrary to King’s assertions, Muslim leaders have worked diligently with law enforcement. In New Jersey our leaders have collaborated in most productive ways with local and state entities– disseminating information unto and from our besieged community. Statements by New Jersey elected officials repeatedly affirm the cooperative relations between Muslim leaders and law enforcement agencies. Whether it is Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) or even our Governor, all have attested to the valuable contributions of American Muslims to the vibrancy, safety and progress of our great State.
Congressman King believes that American mosques are nurturing homegrown terrorists. He often cites the claim that “85% of mosques are run by extremist imams.” This statement was uttered by an Imam in 1999 without any evidence provided. It later became the cornerstone of the right wing’s smear tactics against an entire community. The fact is that American mosques are totally independent of each other, incorporated in their respective states as non-profit corporations subject to state and federal laws. In my mosque, the Imam is nothing more than a hired employee, having agreed to a work under a contract setting forth his obligations to lead the prayers, console the sick, visit the dying, and help the emotionally troubled. The mosque is run by an elected board comprised of well known and respected community and civic leaders. We receive no guidance from any American or foreign sourced entity on how to run our mosque or what to advocate. A simple reading of our mosque’s constitution will show a mission statement similar to that of a church or a synagogue: To worship our Lord, to treat our fellow humans with kindness and respect; to be good citizens by engaging in civic and volunteer activities, and most importantly, to raise our children in a wholesome and ethically enriched environment .
According to the NY Times “A two-year study by a group of academics on American Muslims and terrorism concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. It disclosed that many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring antiviolence forums and scrutinizing teachers and texts.” This has been my experience in my mosque of 30 years.
Congressman King, who in 2004 said that ‘we have too many Muslims and too many mosques’, is firmed up in his belief that American Muslims are a threat to America. I am sure it would have been a national story if he said the same about “too many” churches or synagogues. Calls for his resignation would have come from all corners. But it is a fact the Congressman has benefited from this hatemongering both politically and financially. Politically he has garnered the support of many local and national leaders and organizations who espouse the same venomous attitudes towards American Muslims. King’s Islamophobia has even earned him, according to Open Secrets, over $100,000 in pro-Israel contributions have been deposited in King’s campaign war chest between 1998 and 2010.
He also penned in 2004 a novel tilted ‘The Veil of Terror” which was simply a thinly-veiled excuse to demonize and attack a group of loyal Americans who happened to be of the Islamic faith. Islamophobia is a thriving industry in America in which millions of dollars are spent to exaggerate the threat of American Muslims.
With dogmatic positions already hardened, the hearings are only a final stamp of approval of officially sanctioned discriminatory policy against several million citizens. Americans of conscience must not be enablers of hate. Today, I am made a lesser citizen even though I have committed no crime or broken any law. To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia is the intended outcome of these hearings.
By framing his hearings as an investigation of the entire American Muslim community, the message is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors- all of them. How much more un-American can you get? In short, the hearings will be a political lynching – not a credible venue to find solutions. They will perpetuate prejudices and perpetrate injustices against Muslim communities, and will only serve to undermine our national security.
To counter the curse of terrorism, we must clearly identify the enemy. American Muslims are our best defense at forestalling the spread of radicalization both here and abroad. We are eager partners in fighting extremism in all forms. We have lost many in 9/11. And collectively we have continued to suffer its consequences till today; Islamophobia being its ugliest manifestation. I would therefore argue that Islamophobia is a direct reason for pushing certain people to extremist behavior. Islamophobia is the final form of radicalization and it is more of a direct threat to our treasured American values than Al-Qaeda could ever accomplish. And if not confronted, Islamophobia will erect insurmountable barriers for integrating and assimilating impressionable Muslim youth, some of whom may find refuge in violent responses and possibly express their alienation in extremist forms. Equally, this curse will empower non Muslim extremists to violent acts against innocent Americans of the Muslim faith. Unquestionably, there is a clear link between Islamophobic and prejudicial treatment of certain American citizens, the implications of which cannot be underestimated.
The next time a mosque is firebombed by Muslim hater, or plots to kill by a deranged Muslim are uncovered, we should hold Peter King and his elk responsible for incitement.