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Media ignored Senate hearing on civil rights of American Muslims

Monday April 04, 2011 02:39:14 PM, Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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On March 29, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims by saying a "backlash" which began after the attacks of September 11, 2001, continues against "innocent Muslims, Arabs, south Asians and Sikhs." American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as other Americans, Durbin said, adding that this is an issue of "not just free exercise of religion but freedom of speech."

The hearing, largely ignored by the media, came just a few weeks after a controversial high-profile hearing held by Representative Peter King chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on the so-called Muslim radicalization. The New York Republican has accused the Muslim community of refusing to cooperate with law enforcement and charged that preaching in some U.S. mosques was leading to radicalization.

Senator Durbin said that the goal of his hearings was to show that most Muslim Americans “are patriotic, law abiding people who simply want to live their life as we do.” “Many of our nation’s founders fled religious persecution, which is why our Constitution puts great importance on religious freedom,” Durbin said adding: “Today, addressing anti-Muslim discrimination is an important civil rights issue of our time. It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter’s commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.”

Senator Durbin went on to say: “We should all agree that it is wrong to blame an entire community for the wrongdoing of a few. Guilt by association is not the American way. And American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as every other American.”


According to the Washington Post, the hearing featured the same partisan sparring and many of the same arguments as Rep. Peter King’s hearing on Muslim radicals just three weeks ago.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said that "there are efforts to recruit radical Muslims that must be dealt with." Graham added, "To the American Muslim community I stand with you. But you're going to have to help your country. I'm asking you to get in this fight."

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, said that he was “a bit perplexed by the focus of today’s hearing.”


“If we’re concerned about the most egregious hate crimes,” he said, "Crimes against Jews and Christians far outnumber those against American Muslims.”


Kyl also defended Rep. King’s anti-Muslim hearings, stating, “Political correctness cannot stand in the way of identifying those who would do us harm.”


Testifying on March 29 were four witnesses: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington; the executive director of Muslim Advocates and former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that dealt with civil rights and religious profiling, Farhana Khera; Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez; and law school dean Alex Acosta, former assistant attorney general for civil rights under George W. Bush.

In his testimony, McCarrick, an internationally-known voice on peace and justice issues, drew a parallel between the experiences of Catholics and those of American Muslims. “Catholics have been explicit targets of the Ku Klux Klan and the Know Nothing Party,” McCarrick said. “The very idea of a Catholic in the White House was questioned. Because of this history, we cannot help but be sensitive to the experiences of other religious groups who suffer prejudice, bias and discrimination.”

Cardinal McCarrick said today, we note with particular sadness that Muslim Americans, with whom we have had a positive ongoing dialogue for over two decades, have had their loyalty and beliefs questioned publicly in sweeping and uninformed ways. “This causes us great concern and compels us to reach out in solidarity in support of their dignity and rights as Americans and believers.”

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing: "We continue to see a steady stream of violence against Muslims... The good news is that with each wave of intolerance, our nation has responded by passing news laws."


He said regrettably, Arab-American, Muslim American, Sikh-American and South Asian American individuals have become targets for those who wrongfully wish to fix blame on members of these groups for the despicable acts of terrorists. Perez said since 9-11, the Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against persons perceived to be Muslim or to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian origin.

Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, in a 20-page testimony described the anti-Muslim climate and provide examples of American Muslims and institutions that have been unfairly targeted.

She said that in the last several months, anti-Muslim rhetoric has reached a disturbing new level as “prominent religious, military and even political leaders have joined the fray, feeding fear and hysteria, with some going so far as to say Islam is a cult, not a religion.”


Khera pointed out that work place discrimination against Muslims is at an all-time high. From 2008 to 2009 25 percent of all complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were Muslim bias-based. In addition, community opposition to the construction of mosques has increased and is “getting uglier.”

Not surprisingly, the hearing on protecting the civil rights of American Muslims was criticized as a sideshow by the Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, who organized the high-profile congressional hearing three weeks ago into the so-called radicalization in the Muslim community.


"This just perpetuates the myth that somehow Muslims are the victim of September 11," King, told Fox News. King questioned why Durbin wouldn't examine civil rights violations of other religious groups.


"The best they can do is come back with these hearings by Senator Durbin, which is somehow trying to create the illusion that there's a violation of civil rights of Muslims in this country. It's absolutely untrue, and to me it makes no sense," King said.

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Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective:

Email: asghazali2011 (@)






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