Why Dick Durbin Is Right, And Peter King Is Wrong - Islamophobia In The States

30 March 2011

By Juan Cole

Much has been said of the so-called "Muslim Radicalization" Congressional Hearings headed by Rep. Peter King: they were rightfully condemned as "un-American", "discriminatory", and "Islamophobic".  These hearings unjustly singled out the Muslim-American community, an already embattled minority, and amounted to a modern-day witch hunt. King's hearings will be included in the dark chapter of U.S. history alongside the McCarthy hearings and the internment of Japanese-Americans.

One courageous senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois, decided to take a heroic stand against these hearings, and responded by announcing that he would hold his own committee hearings on the civil rights of Muslim-Americans.  Many have understood this as a "check" or "counter-balance" to King's hearings, and–considering the timing–it is not difficult to see the connection.  It seems fair to say that this was Sen. Durbin's attempt to reach out to the Muslim-American community, as if to say: "I'm there for you."

Naturally, the right-wing went absolutely bonkers when they heard of Durbin's hearings.  The genocidal Pamela Geller, a sweetheart of conservatives, called Durbin a "useful idiot", and more absurdly, a "dhimmi".  (To Geller, any non-Muslim who doesn't revile Islam is by definition a dhimmi.)  But more importantly, Rep. Peter King himself responded to Dick Durbin's hearings.

King must have thought himself very witty for coming up with the following retort:

Why not have a hearing on everyone's civil rights? Since they told me I should have my hearings on not just Muslim radicalization but radicalization in all communities, I would say why doesn't the Senate have a hearing on everyone's civil rights?

The New York Observer wrote a title entitled "King Turns the Tables on Durbin's Muslim Hearings".  But did he?  Even though King was no doubt beside himself for his cunning comeback, the reality is that his response was nothing but 100% Weak Sauce.  Here's why:

(1) Yes, we–and many others–argued that if radicalization hearings were deemed to be necessary, then they ought to have been held about all communities, not just Muslims.  The reason we were opposed to making them "Muslim-only" was because this would be singling out, targeting, and demonizing one community.  Tell me, Mr. King, which community is singled out, targeted, or demonized by Durbin's hearings about Muslim civil rights? Durbin's hearings, unlike King's anti-Muslim hearings, do not single out, target, or demonize any one community.  Therefore, King's attempt at striking an equivalence fails miserably.

(2) We'd have absolutely no problem with holding hearings about the civil rights of all communities.  We're liberals, and we love protecting civil rights.  We wouldn't get our panties in a bunch like King did over his hearings not being able to single out one community in specific. But…

(3) …Since King already held the congressional hearings about Muslim radicalization–and not about radicalization in all communities–then it makes all the sense in the world to hold the civil rights hearings about Muslims.  This is, after all, a check and counter-balance to the anti-Muslim madness.  How about we hold congressional hearings on civil rights for all communities once King holds his hearings on radicalization of all communities–including the Irish-American community he comes from?

(4) King has tried turning the question around on us, but we can equally turn this around on him: if King had no problem holding Muslim-only hearings about radicalization, then he should have no problem holding Muslim-only hearings on civil rights, right?

King then tried to downplay the issue of Muslim civil rights, citing the FBI database:

King noted that the F.B.I.'s numbers show anti-Semitic attacks outnumbered instances of hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. last year by about nine to one, and that attacks on Christians and Muslims were about equal. (Of course, Christians far outnumber Muslims in the U.S., and there are about three times as many Jews as Muslims.)

And yet, during his own hearings Rep. King ignored the FBI's numbers about terrorism.  According to the official FBI database, only 6% of terrorist acts on U.S. soil from 1980-2005 were from Islamic extremists.  This was less than from Jewish extremists.  King is able to see that more anti-Semitic hate crimes occur than anti-Muslim hate crimes, but then becomes blind when it comes to the fact that more acts of Jewish terrorism have occurred than Islamic.  Latinos accounted for over 40% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil: should we hold hearings against the Latino population?  (We shouldn't give Republicans any ideas, since they would love to target Latinos.  Nothing scarier to a Republican than a gay Latino Muslim.)

Peter King's attempt to downplay the assault on Muslim civil rights has echoed throughout the right wing blogosphere.  Said King:

I'm not trying to excuse it, I'm just saying in the overall context it's sometimes more dangerous to be Jewish than Muslim.

These right wing nuts act as if civil rights begins and ends with hate crimes.  During the 1960′s, hate crimes were just one indicator of discrimination.  It is not the end-all be-all.  For example, job discrimination was a major issue for blacks (and continues to be so)…It is also a problem that Muslim-Americans face today: do you know how hard it is to get a job with the name Muhammad Ahmad Abdul Basit?  No wonder Pakistani-Americans often pose as Indians to get hired.

And is it Muslim-Americans or Jewish-Americans who face severe opposition to building houses of worship–not just a few blocks from Ground Zero but anywhere in the United States?  But amazingly, Peter King doesn't hold this to be a form of prejudice (let me guess, it's about parking!):

A press release from Durbin's office cited "restrictions on mosque construction," as an example of rising anti-Muslim sentiment, King denied that opposition to new mosques—including his fierce opposition to the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in downtown Manhattan—should be considered an example of prejudice.

Of course, none of this "counts".  All acts of terrorism by people of other religions "don't count" and all acts of prejudice against Muslims "don't count".  Meanwhile, even a Muslim-American quietly farting in the corner of his room certainly counts (it is after all a biological weapon–and the fact that he did it silently is surely a form of "stealth jihad").  This is similar to the arguments about the Quran and the Bible: everything violent in the Quran "counts" and everything violent in the Bible "doesn't count".

Aside from discrimination in the workplace and with regard to houses of worship, there are even more sinister breeches of Muslim civil rights during the War on of Terror.  The Patriot Act and other un-American legislation have eroded the civil rights of all Americans, but Muslims have been at the forefront.  Here are some civil rights that Muslim-Americans have lost recently: the right not to be the victim of warrantless wiretapping, the right not to be entrapped by law enforcement, the right not to be subject to illegal surveillance,  the right to habeas corpus, the right to be protected from illegal search and seizure, the right to an attorney, the right to face one's accuser, the right not to be tortured, and the right not to be assassinated at the order of the president.

Most Americans could care less about these affronts to civil liberties so long as it is those Dark-Skinned Foreign-Looking Moozlems with Weird Sounding Names who bear the brunt of these un-American laws.  But that's why a congressional hearing aimed at protecting the rights of Muslim civil rights would benefit all Americans: once this erosion of civil rights is given precedent (even if it be just against Muslims), it will be institutionalized and could be used against every single one of us.


©  EsinIslam.Com

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