Lantos Foundation Concerned that Hearings Target Muslim Americans

Organization continues work of Congress' only Holocaust Survivor

On Thursday, March 10, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security will begin hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response”. Extremism of all varieties is a legitimate concern to all Americans. Individuals obsessed with hatred of other groups pose a threat not only to the targets of that animosity, but also to the fabric of our society. Over the years we have witnessed tragic instances in which such bigotry has led to attacks on the basis of religion, race, national origin, political persuasion, sexual orientation, and the exercise of constitutional rights. A congressional inquiry into this broad recurring problem would have our wholehearted support.

But the proposed hearing is targeted at only a single group. That narrow focus suggests that extremism only warrants congressional attention if it occurs among Muslims. Comments made by the Committee Chairman who organized this hearing suggest that radicalization is running rampant among American Muslims as a group. If a committee chair proposed a hearing on "Disloyalty of Catholics," "Racial Hatred by Evangelical Christians," or "Jewish Bankers and the Financial Collapse," there would be widespread and vigorous condemnation.

We must remember that Muslim Americans are not our enemies. They are our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our children's playmates. They are members of our armed services fighting for the rights and freedom of all Americans. They came to the United States for the same reason that we and our families came to these shores, seeking a better life in a nation where all faiths enjoy religious liberty. They are entitled to the same rights and dignity of all Americans, including the right to be judged on their own conduct, not on the basis of religious prejudices or based on the misdeeds, however heinous, of a handful of fanatics who adhere to a very different view of the Muslim faith.

While it is the constitutional right of any individual to espouse far-fetched sweeping generalizations about Muslims or any other group, Congress should be held to a higher standard. We are concerned that at a time when intolerance toward Muslims is already cause for concern, that our leaders not take actions that reinforce such intolerance. This hearing has the potential of conveying to the public the impression that American Muslims as a group are indeed a radical, disloyal, and dangerous sect. We would urge Chairman King as a member of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to conduct these hearings in a manner that will not lead to the demonization of millions of Americans based solely on their religious faith. Mr. King’s late colleague Congressman Tom Lantos was the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to Congress, and he knew from tragic personal experience the dangers that can result when society singles out a particular religious community for condemnation.

America is a nation founded and built in substantial measure by men and women fleeing religious persecution. Huguenots came here to avoid persecution in France. Catholics, Quakers, and Puritans sought to escape intolerance in England. Jews immigrated to avoid discrimination in many lands. Bahai fled abuse in Iran. We would betray the principles in which they believed, and the promise of religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights, if we were we to permit on our own shores, the sort of invidious religious stereotypes that we know full well will incite religious intolerance. The next time a mosque is burned, or a Muslim is attacked, it will be too late to explain that no one actually intended fear of Muslims to get that out of hand.