Tuesday, March 29, 2011

King witch hunt failed

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain wrote an article on the King hearing on March 21, 2011. My response to the article and the article itself are appended below. My response below is the unedited version, The Toledo Blade did print an edited version as a letter to the editor on March 29, 2011.

King witch hunt failed-Mahjabeen Islam
Amjad Hussain’s article on the King hearing was simply brilliant, not just in how well it encompassed the situation, but its dispassionate solution-seeking approach.

Islamophobic propaganda is so widespread now that suggestions like his for Muslims to engage and take charge that do occur seem to get lost in the cacophony.

Like many mosques that dot the landscape of America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo has had a wonderful record of organizing conferences and events that promote education and understanding within its congregation as well as the larger interfaith community.

Each Friday sermon and Sunday lecture educate the congregation and just this past October Rabbi Moshe Saks, Father Tom Doyle and Prof. Ovamir Anjum spoke to a packed Islamic Center on “Terrorism in the name of religion”. The remembrance of 9/11 by the Islamic Center went way past its scheduled hours due to attendance by both Muslim and non-Muslim community members.

The situation of American-Muslims is unenviable. Muslims in Southern California had a great relationship with the FBI until the advent of Craig Monteilh. He converted to Islam, prayed five times a day in the mosque and vehemently called out for jihad, entrapping a Muslim and building a case against him. Deeply concerned by his actions the Islamic Center of Irvine got a restraining order on him. It was only after the case against the Muslim collapsed in court and Monteilh sued the FBI that it was made public by the FBI that Monteilh was a paid FBI informant. Citing this case and the increasing pattern of FBI surveillance, a large group of leading national Muslim organizations has essentially suspended contact with the Bureau.

During the King hearing Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D. Ca) rejected the suggestion that American Muslims submit to FBI questioning without legal presence based on the high possibility of self-incrimination.

AMT, The American Muslim Task Force is an umbrella organization of several mainstream American-Muslim organizations. AMT’s Chair Dr. Agha Saeed summed up my impression of the King hearing well. "We thank fellow Americans, notably Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Rep. Laura Richardson, Rep. Al Green, Rep. John Dingell, and Rep. Danny Davis, for their courage of conviction in rejecting Congressman King's religious McCarthyism. His agenda-driven hearing was a planned assault on the U.S. Constitution that failed.
Muslims should speak up to prevent witch hunts by S. Amjad Hussain
THE congressional hearing conducted by Rep. Peter King into Muslim influence in this country had supporters and detractors. Surprisingly, not all those who opposed the hearing were Muslims.

Representative King (R., N.Y.) said he wanted to expose the menace of radicalization of Muslim communities in the United States. He said the hearing wasn't a witch hunt and that he, as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is obligated to investigate threats to the homeland.

It appears that when Mr. King thinks of terrorism, he sees only Muslims. He also has an extremely short memory.

Mr. King was at one time an ardent supporter of the Catholic terrorist organization the Irish Republican Army and its leader, Gerry Adams. Asked about his ties to the group, Mr. King said the IRA never attacked the United States. As if blowing up innocent civilians, including children, was acceptable as long as it was done away from our shores.

According to the British newspaper the Guardian, in the 1980s Mr. King said that if civilians were killed in an attack on a military installation, it would be certainly regrettable, but he would not blame the IRA for it. In 2005, the New York Sun reported he had been thrown out of a Belfast court during a murder trial because the judge deemed him an IRA collaborator.

Terrorism is not new to our country. America's history includes many incidents of terrorism committed by homegrown groups. Long before Muslims became the favorite targets of right-wing Republicans and their evangelical Christian bedfellows, the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South, burning churches and lynching blacks.

Congress has not extensively investigated militia groups in America, despite terrorist acts such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and, more recently, alleged terrorist activities by the Hutaree militia in Michigan. Most people think of militias as grass-roots efforts to safeguard the misconceived notion of the right to bear arms.

When ordinary militia members take to the woods to play at war games, they are not training as terrorists. But the Timothy McVeighs and Hutaree members did move on from seemingly innocent activities to mortally or potentially dangerous ones.

Then there is the Jewish Defense League, characterized by the FBI as a right-wing terrorist group, which has been involved in plotting terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. King's self-serving and selective focus on American Muslims is ill-timed and ill-conceived. His hearing adds fuel to an already incendiary situation in which Islamophobia is sweeping the country.

In America, almost every ethnic and religious minority has gone through similar discrimination and witch hunts. It was no different for Catholics, Jews, Italians, Irish, or Japanese. Often, the driving force was a political or religious demagogue who capitalized on popular fears for selfish gain. One wonders whether the King hearing is a prelude to the 2012 elections.

In 1953, Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations conducted its infamous quest to unearth communists in the U.S. government. The Wisconsin Republican saw a communist under every American bed and behind every cupboard door in government.

In the end the senator was discredited and disgraced, but not before he destroyed many lives, reputations, and careers. He was censured by the Senate. His name has become synonymous with personal attacks and indiscriminate allegations based on unsubstantiated evidence. Yet the philosophical and political heirs of McCarthy are still at work.

That does not absolve Muslims of their responsibilities. Simply saying that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion is not sufficient.

Why don't Muslims enter the public debate about the evils of terrorism? Why don't they have programs in their mosques to address the real and perceived grievances of Muslims worldwide?

Why don't they try to change the narrative from one of victimhood to one that is honest, open, and self-critical? And in the spirit of that openness, if there are Muslims who espouse ill feelings toward this country, the leaders of their communities should boot them out of the mosques.

Do all ethnic and religious groups practice such openness? Hardly. But this is the only way to confront bigotry head-on.

Mr. King's hearing was a wake-up call for American Muslims. There are forces that are bent on discrediting not only Muslims, but also Islam. They will be countered only when Muslims begin talking openly about potential problems within their communities and take charge.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net