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An other Islamophob -Peter King warns al-Qaeda recruiting US Muslim

The hearing room at the US capitol buildingCritics disparaged the hearings as over broad and feared they would tar Muslims as disloyal

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Sister Jeanne Clark
We need to build relationships with Muslim people and not make them the target of categorising them as terrorists”
Sister Jeanne ClarkPax Christi Long Island

A US congressman has warned al-Qaeda is actively recruiting US Muslims for violent attacks within the country.\
Congressman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who represents a large Muslim community, warned Mr King and the committee not to "blot the good name or the loyalty or raise questions about the decency about Arabs or Muslims or other Americans en mass".
"There will be plenty of rascals that we can point at and say these are the real danger to the nation that we love and that we serve," he said.
'Captured by hunters'
Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said Mr King's hearing contravened "the best of American values" and threatened US security. He called for "increased understanding and engagement with the Muslim community".
Representative Peter King, a Republican, spoke at a House homeland security committee hearing into the "radicalisation" of US Muslims.
He said "homegrown radicalisation" was "part of al-Qaeda's strategy to continue attacking the US".
Critics say the hearing is feeding anti-Islamic sentiment and criticise Mr King for singling Muslims out.
A senior Democratic congressman warned the committee not to "blot the good name" of American Muslims.
Mr King, a New York Republican, has said US mosques are a breeding ground for radical attitudes.
'Rage and hysteria'
In his opening statement on Thursday, Mr King said that US anti-terror efforts since the 11 September 2001 attacks had prevented al-Qaeda from launching major strikes on the US from outside the country, but said the Islamist group had turned to actively recruiting Americans for attacks.
"Al-Qaeda is actively targeting the American Muslim community for recruitment. Today's hearing will address this dangerous trend," he said.
He warned that bowing to the "rage and hysteria" the hearing had prompted would amount to "craven surrender to political correctness".
Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the US should also investigate anti-government hate groups as well.
He believes the hearings could be used to inspire terrorist propaganda.

Also on Thursday, two men who say their sons were turned to violent, radical Islam testified.
The White House has said US domestic security efforts should look at all extremists, not just focus on Muslims.
"We don't want to stigmatise, we don't want to alienate entire communities," US Attorney General Eric Holder said.
But Mr King has said some leaders of American Muslim communities have done too little to co-operate with law enforcement - an assertion Mr Holder has rejected.
On Thursday Melvin Bledsoe, whose son Carlos killed one US soldier and wounded another at a military recruiting centre in Little Rock in 2009, Arkansas testified about what he described as his son's manipulation and radicalisation by Muslim leaders.
"Carlos was captured by people best described as hunters," Mr Bledsoesaid. "He was manipulated and lied to."
Also testifying was Minnesota man whose young Somali-American son was recruited to join the al-Shabab militant group, which the US considers a terrorist organisation, and who was killed in Somali.
Other witnesses included Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and a Muslim-American doctor and former naval officer.

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  • An American face of Islam

    Fatma HocaogluMany Muslims are fighting negativeperceptions
    Opinion polls show Americans are deeply conflicted over Islam and favourable views of the religion are declining, prompting many Muslim Americans to question how they can address the growing hostility.
    "We were expecting a backlash around the anniversary of 9/11 - but this year it's been enormous," says Sarah Thompson, communications director of the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America.
    "The proposed Koran burnings in Florida, the controversy over the planned Islamic Centre near Ground Zero and the arson attack on the mosque in Tennessee have made the situation critical. Creating a positive image of Islam has to become our priority."
    But finding a unified voice and a clear identity is hard because of the diversity within the Muslim community itself.

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    I don't cover my head and I guess I'm liberal and progressive. But I don't really drink and I haven't dated that many boys”
    Fatma Hocaoglu
    America's 7.5 million Muslims speak many different languages, come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and even have different interpretations of Islam.
    "Our narrative here [in the US] is really a collection of narratives, multiple identities and communities," says 26-year-old Alejandro Beutel, a counter-terrorism analyst and government liaison expert for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
    MPAC is one of more than two dozen national organizations promoting Muslim American interests. But like the communities they serve, there is no single approach.
    Some, like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), focus on interfaith dialogue and religious understanding.
    Others, such as MPAC, seek to shape US government policy while encouraging Muslim Americans to become more civically engaged.
    But even within this organisation's tiny office overlooking the Capitol in Washington DC, the staff who are trying to present an American face of Islam represent a wide range of views and backgrounds.
    Muslim women in headscarves in BrooklynThe stereotypical image is of headscarves and beards
    Mr Beutel was born in the US but his parents are immigrants from El Salvador and Italy.
    His colleague, Jihad Saleh Williams, 36, converted to Islam, but comes from a long line of Californians of African and Mexican descent. His mother is a Baptist and his father is Catholic.
    "I know African Americans whose families have been Muslim for several generations," he says. "Some Muslims were brought here as slaves and small pockets of them survived."
    Their co-worker, 28-year-old Fatma Hocaoglu, was born in the state of New Jersey and owes her Muslim faith to her parents who were originally from Uzbekistan but emigrated to Saudi Arabia and Turkey before settling in America.
    "I'm considered a moderate Muslim," she says. "I don't cover my head and I guess I'm liberal and progressive. But I don't really drink and I haven't dated that many boys."

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    Al-Qaeda's home grown terrorists have a near perfect track record of failing in almost every single terrorist attack - because the only people they're able to recruit now are idiots”
    Alejandro Beutel
    Ms Hocaoglu was brought up in Germany and lived there for many years. She says she sometimes struggles with her own sense of identity and questions what being American or Muslim really means.
    But 21-year-old Karam Hijji has no such doubts. His parents are from Palestine, and while he retains strong links to a country where American foreign policy is often blamed for conflict elsewhere, he is unequivocal about what it means to be a Muslim American.
    "We're Muslim in our beliefs but American in our values. There's no conflict of identity. Being Muslim American is about highlighting this diversity and being proud of it, but still holding on to the American values," he says.
    But as America continues to debate the nature of Islam and the limits of religious freedom, these Muslim Americans say their voices are being lost amid polarising rhetoric, while their identity is being hijacked by extremists.
    "We are part of this society and are heavily invested in this society, but that has not been made clear because there are those outside our community who are seeking to distort that message," says Mr Beutel.
    Ms Hocaoglu blames the American television media for promoting hysteria and making factual errors when discussing Muslim issues.
    "It's almost like a weapon that can be used in such negative and manipulative ways and if people are that susceptible to it, that's how their thoughts and opinions are influenced," she says.
    That's forced many Muslim organisations to seek new ways of communicating. Social media plays an important role in reaching both Muslim communities and the wider American public. Videos are posted directly on the internet and some groups have Twitter and Facebook accounts.
    Dangerous myths
    However, that doesn't appear to have addressed the perception that moderate Muslims in America have not been sufficiently vocal in condemning atrocities committed in the name of Islam.

    "It is one of the most dangerous myths circulating in American society - that Muslim Americans and Muslims in general do not condemn terrorism and that we do not take a stand on this. It's absolutely false," says Mr Beutel.
    "We have been extremely vocal in condemning terrorism, which is evident if you look at the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism. Al-Qaeda's home-grown terrorists have a near perfect track record of failing in almost every single terrorist attack - because the only people they're able to recruit now are idiots."
    A lack of resources is part of the problem for groups trying to promote understanding, says ISNA's Sarah Thompson, 27, and a recent convert to Islam.
    "When we have so many different community needs - such as helping children who face discrimination at school - our resources are often overwhelmed," she says. "But we are now trying to work with different organisations to co-ordinate our message."
    Group of MuslimsThe group blames the media for some of the negative ideas about Muslims
    Mr Saleh Williams says individual Muslim Americans also have a responsibility to make their voices heard.
    "Those who have a positive perception of Muslims and Islam are those who actually know a Muslim. So it puts the imperative on individual Muslims to get out and be more pro-active in their community," he says.
    Mr Hijji believes much of the opposition to Muslims in America has been exacerbated by ongoing tensions over immigration.
    "There is always a cultural barrier when you have immigrant parents and I think that has more to do with race than faith," he says.
    Most Arab Americans are assumed to be Muslim, but according to figures from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, two-thirds are Christian.
    Islam is not the first religion to face discrimination in the US. When John F Kennedy ran for president, some influential commentators expressed fears that his Catholic faith posed a threat to the constitution, freedom of speech and American culture in general. He addressed the nation's concerns in a 1960 speech that articulated his hope that religious intolerance would one day end.
    But today Muslim Americans are still trying to convince a sceptical public that religion and patriotism need not be mutually exclusive.
    "Being a Muslim is not in conflict with the values of America," says Mr Beutel.
    The term moderate Muslims is not only becoming important in the post September 11 discussion of Islam and the West, it is also becoming highly contested. What do we really mean when we brand someone as a moderate...
    Liaquat Ali KhanSaturday, March 12, 2011

    Despite calls to call off the proposed Congressional hearings on the inflammatory topic of “the radicalisation of American Muslims,” Representative Peter King, the Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security is determined to investigate the so-called home-grown Islamic terrorism.

    Numerous faith groups, including the Catholics, oppose King’s hearings as a crude attack on the religious dignity of Islam. Jewish leaders and rabbis have been most vocal in condemning the undignified implication that “there is an inherent link between Islam per se and terrorism (which) is not helpful to religious tolerance in America.” Other faith groups warn that “singling out a group of Americans for government scrutiny based on their faith is divisive and wrong.” King remains un-persuaded, however, reaffirming regrettable popular opinions that Islam poses a threat to national security, that mosques are turning into centres of radicalism, and that American Muslims are actively planning to engage in acts of terrorism.

    In addition to challenging the religious dignity of Islam, a religion now well-established in the US, King’s hearings violate the principle of human dignity, the bedrock of the law of human rights. Human dignity requires that the group identity should not be the sole criterion for judging individuals. Every individual, regardless of his or her racial, religious, or any other group identity, is entitled to human dignity. This principle of dignity of the individual, though it applies to all, is particularly protective of individuals of vulnerable minorities, such as American Muslims.

    King knows that several million Muslims living in all parts of the US epitomise diversity and individuality. They all are not the same. Ignoring complex compositions of American-Muslims as individuals, King’s hearings endorse an inaccurate impression that American Muslims constitute a violent monolithic community; or, worse, that each and every American Muslim poses a threat to homeland security.

    As public figures wielding influence, lawmakers are duty-bound to avoid harmful overgeneralisations that cause public panic or fear.

    King underscores a legitimate homeland security concern. A few individuals would likely commit acts of terrorism and some already have. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalised Muslim citizen, attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Squares. In 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, a Muslim born in Virginia, killed 13 persons at Fort Hood. However, select acts of terrorism, no matter how despicable, cannot be inflated into the collective guilt of an entire community.

    History teaches us, again and again, that overgeneralisations lead to error and tragedy. Most American Muslims are like most other Americans, engrossed in their daily lives. Committing the cardinal error of overgeneralisation, King, despite legitimate concerns he has for homeland security, comes across as a prejudiced lawmaker determined to demonise American Muslims as violent radicals. At a time when the US needs the goodwill of domestic Muslim communities to safeguard homeland security, King is widening the gulf of trust and mutual respect among Americans.

    Homeland security is a legitimate congressional concern. Members of Congress are bound by oath or affirmation to defend the US Constitution against domestic and foreign enemies. Note, however, that it is the US Constitution that members of Congress must defend. No responsible lawmaker would reduce the Constitution’s complex rights-based architecture to mere homeland security. It is no secret that inflated concerns for homeland security can assault civil liberties and protected rights.

    Rights-based democracies interweave homeland security into the precious fabric of rights and liberties. Congressional leaders, including the Speaker of the House, must not allow King to conduct these hearings that challenge the religious dignity of Islam and through harmful generalisation decline to treat American Muslims as individuals.

    The writer is professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas.


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