As Long Island faith leaders from different religious traditions, we fear that Rep. Peter King's (R-NY) congressional hearings about the "radicalization" of the Muslim community will demonize Muslim Americans, undermine interfaith dialogue and distract us from practical efforts to confront violent extremism.
We stand together with a broad spectrum of religious and secular leaders who believe that fighting terrorism does not require compromising our nation's core values and highest ideals. In our experience volunteering and breaking bread with Muslims on Long Island, we are inspired by our neighbors' commitment to worship in peace and pursue the American dream. We have visited mosques in an effort to understand our Muslim brothers and sisters' beliefs and proud traditions. We have seen their dedication to serve others, especially those with few resources, and have worked together as Jews, Christians and Muslims to speak on behalf of peace and nonviolent solutions to conflicts. Muslims are doctors and teachers, police officers and business owners. They are a part of our American family and should be treated with dignity.
Sadly, these misguided hearings have the potential to inflame a toxic climate of Islamophobia now common in our community and across the country. On Long Island, Muslims often face discrimination. Some Muslim women who because of their faith wear the hijab (head covering) are afraid to go to the grocery store alone. Recently, in an affluent Long Island neighborhood, an email circulated throughout the community warning people that a terrorist had moved into the neighborhood. Muslim children in a local school were shunned by students. This prejudice diminishes us all and undermines our nation's commitment to equality and religious pluralism.
Despite false perceptions shaped by stereotypes, Muslim-American leaders have consistently denounced terrorism and worked with law enforcement to prevent violence. In recent months, Muslims foiled attempted bombings in Times Square and Portland, Ore. Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering this cooperation. Political spectacles and demagoguery that demean an entire religious community are wrong and do not make us safer. We encourage Congressman King to choose a more constructive approach to strengthening the bonds of trust that bolster our security and protect our values by convening a dialogue between faith leaders, law enforcement and elected officials.
Although Congressman King has insisted that his hearings will focus on Islamic extremism, his own rhetoric suggests that he will cast a cloud of suspicion over the entire Muslim community. He told a radio host that 80 percent of mosques are led by radicals and once described Muslims as "an enemy living amongst us." As Jews and Catholics have learned throughout American history, sweeping accusations have tragic consequences. Entire communities should never be targeted by overzealous leaders in the name of patriotism. During World War II, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps because of broad suspicion of disloyalty. The McCarthy hearings of the 1950's became a national spectacle that falsely impugned the loyalty and destroyed the lives of many Americans. Catholics were once viewed as threats to democracy beholden to a foreign power. Jews have faced centuries of suspicion and prejudice. This shameful history should teach us to never again demonize an American simply because of race, religion or culture.
Leaders across the political spectrum agree that we must work together to prevent terrorist attacks. Our opposition to Rep. King's hearings isn't motivated by "political correctness" or a naïve belief that evil does not exist in the world. Rather, we call for a more constructive approach because we fear these hearings will undermine practical approaches to this profound challenge and threaten our most inspiring ideals as a nation.