Socially and professionally, we as American Jews have often felt as though we were being 'put on the stand' for our beliefs. Sometimes our beliefs even seemed to be on trial nationally -- notably during the 'Red Scares' leading up to and during the Cold War, when a disproportionate number of Jews were blacklisted.
But seldom has our religion actually been put on the stand. No organ of the federal government has, to my knowledge, held hearings to investigate American Jewry for disloyalty or radicalization. We may have feared such public humiliation -- but it has not yet materialized.
By contrast, an effort is currently underway to single out American Muslims. Representative Peter King (R-NY), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, has declared his intention to hold a public hearing in Congress on the "radicalization" of Muslim Americans.
King declared on a segment of Fox News this past December that "We have to break through this politically correct nonsense which keeps us from debating and discussing what I think is one of the most vitally important issues in this country. We are under siege by Muslim terrorists and yet there are Muslim leaders in this country who do not cooperate with law enforcement."
Rhetoric like this is troubling; King's efforts to put these congressional hearings in motion are dumbfounding.
First, King overlooks the tremendous amount of collaboration between law enforcement and Muslim communal leaders. To name but several Muslim leaders (who I am fortunate to call colleagues), Imam Khalid Latif is himself a uniformed member of the NYPD; Imam Yahya Hendi was honored by the FBI for his leadership and work to improve collaboration between law enforcement and the Muslim community; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has worked closely with the State Department to foster greater trust of the United States government within majority-Muslim countries overseas. Though some of the most prominent figures in the American Muslim community, they are but three of numerous Muslim leaders who collaborate actively with law enforcement. There are always exceptions to every rule, but Representative King misidentifies the rule itself.
Second, if Representative King actually seeks to enhance cooperation between Muslim Americans and law enforcement, singling out their religious community is a losing strategy. Instead, if anything, King should ask what Imams Latif, Hendi, and Rauf are doing right and how to get others to follow suit. Praising known best-practices, rather than criticizing the amorphous, is a better strategy for engaging the American Muslim community in the effort to thwart extremists of all religions.
Third, Rep. King must be consistent and fair if he is to hold hearings about individual communities at all. In spite of the fact that the perpetrator of the shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona was not Muslim, King has publicly refused to broaden the scope of the proposed inquiry to include the radicalization of other American communities (whether defined religiously or not) or individuals therein. In refusing to do so, he delegitimizes the hearings he will hold -- as well, one fears, as his own high office.
As Chair of the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives, Mr. King must do better. Defending our homeland begins with our rights -- and the rights of our religious communities not to be singled out and set up for the possibility of public humiliation.
The hearings must be stopped even before they are started. Otherwise, they may well lead to the humiliation and marginalization of an American religious community.