Thursday’s inaugural hearing to discuss the threat of terrorism in the American Muslim community sparked fears of future religious stereotyping and profiling.
During the radicalization meeting, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee said the narrow discussion of Muslim Americans was “demonizing and castigating” an entire religious group.
Democratic sponsored witness Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca praised the open discussion of terrorism but also warned, “It is counterproductive to building trust when individuals or groups claim that Islam supports terrorism."
A recent poll suggests that Americans are split on whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence. However, slightly more (42 percent of responders vs. 40 percent) agree that Islam is not more likely than others to encourage violence.
The Pew Research Center poll reveals that for the past three years, more Americans than not believe that the Islamic religion is not more likely to encourage violence.
But the proportion of those who feel the Muslim faith does promote violence is growing. In 2009, only 38 percent felt the faith promoted violence more than other religions. Last year the proportion was 35 percent. This year’s poll reveals that 40 percent now share that sentiment.
On Thursday, Rep Peter King (R-Ny.) led the controversial “Radicalization in the American Muslim Community” hearing. While the hearing focused exclusively on the Muslim American community King took great pains to clarify that not all Muslims were on trial.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans," said the Homeland Security Committee chairman.
Additionally, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told those in attendance at the hearing that there were many types of Islam. He said the personal Islam that he and other Muslim Americand practiced in their homes is not a threat. However, he identified "political Islam," which seeks to advance the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed and Sharia law for political purposes, as a concern.
Fellow panelist Melvin Bledsoe, whose son Carlos was radicalized in Yemen and allegedly attacked an Army recruitment center, emphasized that the radicals who “hide behind moderate Muslims” was the subject the hearing’s discussions.
A previous poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, in cooperation with Religion News Service, found that 56 percent of the 1,015 Americans interviewed approved of the March hearings to investigate al Qaeda’s recruitment tactics here in the United States.
However, of those questioned, over 70 percent agreed that Congress should not focus on just U.S. Muslims.
Several House members voiced that opinion during the meeting. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asked that Christian terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Army of God be investigated as well.
It was also recommended that the name of the hearings changed to something more general, such as the radicalization of Americans, not just Muslims.
But Jasser urged the House member to speak plainly about Islam and Jihad. Refusing to focus on radical Islam is “like trying to treat cancer without saying the name.”
King defended the hearing as necessary to “break down the walls of political correctness” and keep Americans safe. He is proposing a follow-up hearing to discuss the radicalization of Muslim inmates. That hearing will likely be held several months from now.