WASHINGTON (RNS) House lawmakers split along party lines at a hearing Wednesday (June 20) meant to gauge Muslim responses to earlier hearings on the "radicalization" of American Muslims.
Testimony by four witnesses was overshadowed by Republicans who defended the four prior hearings and Democrats who questioned whether they were misguided or actually harmful to Muslim Americans.
Short on new data but long on rhetoric, lawmakers argued both sides of the same statistics and relied heavily on anecdotes.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans, yet the reality is that the Islamist terror threat comes from the community," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, the ranking Democratic member, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he hoped the hearings did not increase hate crimes or religious profiling, and worried that America's image abroad is of a nation at war with Islam.
Muslim physician and writer Qanta A. A. Ahmed told lawmakers that difficulties in discussing American Islam stem from shortcomings in language, especially extreme post-9/11 rhetoric. "What's so important about these hearings and why we actually need a synopsis of the hearings is (that) the distinction between Islam and Islamism has been lost in public discourse," she said.
Others argued that any religion can breed extremism. Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said the current model of investigating terrorist threats is ineffective because it often equates Muslim piety with extremism.
Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., argued that the heated political discourse has resulted in discrimination beyond Muslims. He recounted an incident in his district in which a Sikh temple was defaced with anti-Muslim graffiti.
"These hearings are not an assault against Islam," he said, his voice rising passionately. "It's (an) assault against all Americans, especially Asian Americans," he said.