Editorial | Leave McCarthyism in the past
Published: Monday, March 7, 2011
Updated: Monday, March 7, 2011 07:03
McCarthyism has made a comeback, this time with a new target. Congress on Thursday will begin hearings to assess the threat of the radicalization of American Muslims. Democratic lawmakers and Muslim advocates have condemned the hearings as discriminatory by limiting their focus to Muslim−bred extremism. Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R−N.Y.) argued that the hearings are necessary because Muslim radicalization poses a particular threat to American public safety.
We reject King's argument that limiting the hearings to threats from a single religious group is in the best interest of national security. Investigating the threat posed by only the Muslim community sends the message that Muslims as a group — not just Muslim extremists — pose a particular security threat. The entire episode harks back to the era of McCarthyism, when individuals across the country were accused of communist activity for often preposterous reasons, and will alienate Muslim Americans at a time when the United States relies on their loyalty more than ever.
Tips from the Muslim community are pivotal in the effort to thwart Muslim extremists, various experts said on Monday at a Capitol Hill forum, especially in keeping tabs on extremists of whom the government would have lost track of otherwise. Forty−eight of the 120 Muslims arrested since the 9/11 terrorist attacks were turned in by other Muslims, according to a Feb. 2 study released by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
It is essential, therefore, for the government to maintain the trust of American Muslims. And holding televised hearings that essentially ask, "Just how dangerous are Muslims living in the United States?" does nothing to foster trust. If King wants the government to continue to benefit from the patriotism of Muslims, he shouldn't hold hearings that imply that their faith makes them more likely to commit treason. They send the message that Muslims are not Americans but threats to Americans.
Moreover, Thursday's hearing sends the message to other Americans that setting Muslims apart is justified. King repeatedly emphasized in several interviews that Muslim radicalization poses a greater security threat than any non−Muslim terrorist group. At a time when discrimination against Muslims is already a national problem, this hearing only breeds more prejudice and can only lead to divisiveness and violence.
There are other kinds of extremism in America, perhaps most notably among those who target abortion clinics. There have been more than 400 death threats and 170 cases of assault and battery in the United States and Canada as a result of anti−abortion violence from 1977 to 2009, as well as eight deaths, three kidnappings and multiple attempted murders, arsons and bombings, according to the National Abortion Federation. These cases of violence more often than not are carried out in defense of the Christian faith, but the government doesn't hold hearings to address the threat of Christian radicalization.
Muslim radicalization is a serious issue that governments across the world are forced to face. But it should be addressed in a way that does not publicly associate ordinary Americans with terrorist extremists solely on the basis of their religion.