Whether for political gain or public notoriety, anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry has become acceptable in political and civic discourse. Divisive Congressional hearings chaired by New York Congressman Peter King unfairly targeting American Muslims begin this week. These hearings legitimize anti-Muslim rhetoric by giving them a congressional stamp of approval. Increasingly, concerned Americans are stepping off the sidelines and eagerly seeking ways to push for a return to respectful and civil discourse rooted in the facts.
Peter King has chosen to ignore the fact that those who engage in violence motivated by extremist beliefs in America today hail from myriad racial, ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. Less than two weeks ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report on the explosive growth of right-wing anti-government and hate groups. Yet, the Peter King hearings are focused on scapegoating one community based on their faith. America will be less safe as a result.
But King is not the first person in his party to use this tactic. In 2008, former Secretary of State Colin Powell courageously spoke out against members of his own political party because of their anti-Muslim rhetoric. He poignantly asked, "Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America."
During the 2008 presidential campaign, anti-Muslim rhetoric was becoming commonplace -- and Powell's voice was needed. Since then, anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate has re-emerged -- and it's becoming uglier and more frightening.
Last month U.S. Reps Gary Miller and Ed Royce attended an anti-Muslim rally in Orange County in which protesters hurled hateful comments at American Muslim families attending a fundraiser to support women's shelters and charitable efforts to curb hunger and homelessness.
At the rally, protesters yelled insults at attendees, including families with young children, shouting "You are stupid terrorists! Go home! Go home! Go home!" Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly spoke from the stage and said, "I know quite a few Marines who will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise."
It is outrageous that one community would be subject to death threats by a public official. Common decency and American values of truth and fairness dictate that neither law enforcement nor members of Congress should assign blame or target members of an entire mosque, neighborhood or the entire population of hard-working, law-abiding American Muslims when acts of violence are planned or perpetrated by individuals.
In the meantime, American Muslims are doing their part to keep us safe by regularly reporting criminal activity to law enforcement. In fact, senior, experienced law enforcement officials from the national to state to local levels have spotlighted the critical role that American Muslims play to defend democracy and security.
But we have reached a tipping point. Unless something is done, we will continue this dangerous slide toward fear. It's time for all Americans, including elected officials, to take a stand for our common values. Many Americans who believe in freedom, truth and fairness are ready to speak out -- they simply need a platform.
Fortunately, many courageous Americans have begun to push back against efforts to target the entire American Muslim community. They include Christian clergy, law enforcement officials and civil rights leaders.
When Rep. Peter King announced that he would hold hearings targeting American Muslims, over 50 organizations came together to sign a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Leader Nancy Pelosi objecting to the nature of the hearings and calling on Rep. King to focus on all violent extremism rather than a single religious community.
What is missing from the discourse is a platform for Americans of good will to push back against anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate, especially when espoused by elected officials. That's why several organizations have now come together to launch www.WhatUnites.Us.
We are bringing together Americans from all walks of life to push back against anti-Muslim rhetoric and make it unacceptable for public figures of any kind, but especially elected officials, to espouse anti-Muslim hate. We call on Americans to unite with us and to call out rhetoric and actions that divide us.
I hope you will join with other courageous Americans in speaking out -- and standing on the right side of history.
Farhana Khera is President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, which is managing the www.WhatUnites.Us campaign in partnership with numerous organizations like The Interfaith Alliance.
Follow Farhana Khera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/farhanakhera