March 10, 2011

Why I’m a Muslim today, too, Peter King

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 3:30 pm by chavisory

Today, Republican Representative Peter King’s congressional hearings on radicalization within the American Muslim community begin.  And I would say that this blatant and apparently un-self-conscious re-enactment of the McCarthy hearings, this repellent attempt by Representative King to use collective blame to make us view our Muslim fellow citizens with fear and suspicion or as somehow less than fully American, makes me ashamed to be an American, or makes me ashamed that King represents my state.

Except that everywhere, I read about people standing up to what King’s doing, speaking up in defense of the Muslim community, pointing out the hypocrisy of the very premise of the hearings, and drawing comparisons to the McCarthy hearings and Salem witch trials.  And it makes me proud, and makes me wonder if we might finally actually be learning something as a country, even if our leaders aren’t yet.  Which is that, while any of us are in danger of persecution or officially sanctioned injustice, all of us are.

In illustration, one of my favorite articles of the week, shared by a Facebook friend, comes from the Washington Post and chronicles the relationship of support built between the Muslim and Japanese-American communities on the west coast in the years since 9/11.  (Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam ‘sinister.’)  The Japanese-American community remembers the internments of World War II, based on nothing more than suspicion of their ethnicity.  They remember that it can happen to them, and it can happen again.

I have a theory, which is that people who instigate and support this kind of targeting and suspicion of others based on group identity, are people who are themselves pretty sure that the same tactics will never be turned back against them.  People who have never been excluded or abused or marginalized based on who they are, have an easy time believing that they never will be.  People who have always been able to take their place in society, or even humanity, for granted, have a hard time imagining not being able to do so.

But people who have been marginalized instinctively identify ourselves in every marginalized person, and see the danger to ourselves in injustice against anyone.

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, which I’ve written about before, World Without End, in which a serf named Wulfric and his family have run away from the lord who controls their land, to another community where they have a chance to be independent and escape the grinding, perpetual poverty of feudal life.  Sir Ralph comes to force Wulfric to return, as was legal in those days: the lord who owned your land effectively owned you.  Another man tries to defend Wulfric, who says “Be quiet, Carl.  I don’t want you killed for my sake.”

“It’s not for your sake,” says Carl.  “If this thug is allowed to drag you off, next week someone will come for me.”

And that’s why King seeks with his hearings to get Americans to see American Muslims as not truly us, but “them,” some alien and hostile force among us.  Whatever his ultimate aim is, and I don’t believe for one second that it’s really just to determine the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community, it depends on us seeing Muslims as something other than and less than ourselves.

And that’s why I say that today, I’m a Muslim too, or might as well be, because anything that can be done to anyone–like being presumed guilty of collusion with terrorists and investigated by Congress for your religious identity–can be done to all of us.  Every single one.  Never pretend that it can’t.


“Congressman defends hearing on radical Islam” (NYT)

Representative Keith Ellison’s testimony at King’s hearing:


  1. Montana said,

    Why doesn’t this Peter T. King investigate the “Home Grown” radicalization of Irish Americans, who support the tradition wing of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), or Noraid (The Irish Northern Aid Committee), and being recruited by “Enemy Overseas” or worse “Enemy Overseas” the “Catholic Church ”, where their priests have rape our young American boys, what about that you hypocrite scumbag.

  2. David S. said,

    Excellent post. I’d only add that the re-enactment of McCarthy is–in all likelihood–fully self-conscious, given that many of Peter King’s ilk have tried to rehabilitate McCarthy’s image as an unsung fallen hero of the Republic.

  3. Grumpa Joe said,

    Many “true” Americans have the same question? What sets off a good Muslim? Representative King is merely trying to find the root cause of radicalism. I cannot believe you are not also curious.
    Another question that haunts many Americans is why don’t the Muslims who are “good, loving, and peaceful,” speak out against their radical counterparts? True American muslims would want to live in harmony with other religious denominations. They would want to meld into the American culture. Why don’t the “good” muslims speak out against radicals who are bent on destroying America and the culture in which they choose to live? Why are muslims so energetic about implementing Sharia law in America? Is it because their religion is a theocratic philosophy which cannot separate church from state? If that is true, even a “god” muslim can never truly be an American. Americans are true to their country and their religion, but they can keep civil law separate from their religious commandments.
    I lived through McCarthy and his inquisitions, What Rep. King is doing is not even remotely resemble what McCarthy did.

    • Nick said,

      Please back up your outrageous statements of Muslims pushing for Sharia law in the US. Is it a small fringe group, or all ~5 million of them?

      Asking every Muslim to speak out against radicals is a straw man. Plenty of leaders have already done so, but they should not have to publicly condemn every act by someone who claims the same religion. Our supreme court upheld Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket funerals with signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.” Does that mean the US as a whole believes these words? Merely every Christian?

      You seem quick to judge and alienate your fellow citizens for their religion. America is made up of a broad range of colors, religions, and cultures. I suggest you get used to having those who are different here with you. Someday you may be a minority.

    • chavisory said,

      Oh, I’m extremely curious about what goes into making radicals. It’s one of my enduring interests, in fact.

      What I do not believe is that American Muslims are any more intrinsically or dangerously susceptible to radicalism than American Christians.

      And there’s a whole lot wrong with American culture. Many “good” people don’t wish to meld into it.

      I could just as well ask, why not hold hearings on the radicalization of Christians in churches? There are WAY more radical Christians in this country than radical Muslims, and a fair number of them have actually attempted or carried out violence. I could just as well ask “why haven’t the ‘good’ Christians spoken up against the terrorists in their midst?”

      Well, they have. They do, all the time. As have peaceful Muslims. But that stuff’s not exciting enough to get the media coverage that the murder of abortion doctors does.

      And I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Muslims in general are any more energetic about implementing Sharia law in the US than right-wing Christians are about implementing Old Testament biblical law. Right-wing Christianity is just as much a theocratic philosophy that can’t separate church and state. So, would you say that those Christians can never truly be Americans?

  4. Grumpa Joe said,

    You make some excellent points. I only wish the muslim community were more vocal about radicals. Yes, I have heard one Imam speak out, but where are the remainder? The radicals of Westboro Church are being condemned by their fellow christians, So much so, that christians do not consider Westboro a christian church.
    I believe, and you can correct me if I am wrong, that for the number of muslims in the USA the ratio of radicals is high when compared to other radical groups.
    The question of what can trigger a seemingly normal muslim into becoming radical remains.
    The shooter in Germany last week made a comment that he felt the US position in Afghanistan was unjust, therefore he killed American soldiers. Why?.
    Surely, the Imam who wants to build the mosque near ground zero condoned Sharia law, and there are reports citing that as much as ten percent of the mosques in the US (approx 200) preach jihad and sharia law.
    Before 9/11, I advocated the assimilation of muslims into the America under our right to freedom of religion. I still do. Since 9-11, I am not so sure. I continue to learn about more and more incidents that are aimed at hurting US citizens under the umbrella of jihad. I want to believe we can live peaceably side by side without the need to fear or hate one another.
    I live in a town that has had a mosque for over twenty years. We have a large muslim community, and I have never feared them. I always figured they were good peaceful people. Now, after so many incidents, and attempts at terror within our borders, I have become leery of my muslim neighbors.

    • chavisory said,

      But again, every single thing you’re asking is not an invalid question, but could (and should) just as easily be asked about ANY group in the US, Christians especially. Do you have any idea what percentage of Christian churches preach the need for a return to literalist biblical law as the law of the land? I’m not any less scared of those people than I am of fundamentalist Muslims.

      The real danger to all of us is fundamentalism.

      I don’t understand why you’d be leery of your Muslim neighbors, any more than you should be leery of your Christian neighbors because of the actions of Westboro Baptist or radicals who terrorize women’s clinics. Do you know them? Talk to them?

  5. Grumpa Joe said,

    First, I do not believe any christian church advocates a return to biblical law as the law of the land. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
    As I stated above the percentage of Christians who become radical is very low.
    I do speak to muslims whenever the opportunity arises. Those that I know are extremely good people, but can I trust them not to become radicalized?

    • chavisory said,

      Well, I can guarantee you, there are. I think you’re severely under-informed about Christian fundamentalism in this country.

      I also think you’re still asking the wrong question. How do you trust them not to become radicalized? Rather, how do they trust you not to turn on them because of the kind of guilt by association that Peter King is propagating? You may be a “good” person, but you seem to have bought into a lot of the fear-mongering of the media and it’s overwhelming your opinion of the people you actually KNOW. So how are they supposed to trust you?

      This is my question, and the point of my entire post: How do you know that the kind of suspicion and demonization currently being used against the Muslim community would never be used against you? Why do you feel so safe, that you’d use this against someone else?

      If it’s acceptable to use it against one group, any group, it WILL be turned on you eventually. Count on it.

  6. Sharia law is what every Muslim follows: it is simply the body of Islamic law, which has the aim of creating a peaceable, kind, ethical human being. Unfortunately, the extremists have hijacked Sharia law into *their version* of Sharia law, with the result that most people believe Sharia be about honor killings and public beheadings. I assure you that it is not. Islam is a very complex religion, and attempts by a minority of thugs to make it a simplistic system of oppression and violence are a violation of its principles.

    Observant Jews follow Talmudic law. And yes, some of them twist it beyond recognition, but that doesn’t mean that such people represent even a portion of what the Talmud is about.

    There is ugliness in every religion, and good ethical people in every religion condemn the ugliness while pursing what is right. The reason that people haven’t heard the many Muslims who condemn extremism and violence is because they don’t get on the news. Just because people don’t hear them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

  7. Laura said,

    “…while any of us are in danger of persecution or officially sanctioned injustice, all of us are.”

    Exactly right. It might not resemble what McCarthy did yet, but it can..and it might. If we don’t start paying close attention, and speaking up for our fellow Americans.

    I agree that fundamentalism of any kind is the problem. In my opinion, fundamentalism is fostered by poverty, ignorance, and alienation. Young men of little means, and often little education, who then isolated or alienated in some way, or perceive that they have been, are sought out by radical with an agenda, made to feel as part of something bigger than themselves, something important, and become militant in support of that. I believe that’s why young people join street gangs, and fundamentalist religious or political factions. Some also join the military, or sports teams. It’s almost a matter of who gets to them first.

    Anyway, that’s just my theory and possibly the longest run on sentence in history.

    Great post!

  8. Diane said,

    “while any of us are in danger of persecution or officially sanctioned injustice, all of us are.”

    Great post. I’m glad people are speaking out and helping all of us to remember where this can lead if left unchecked.

  9. Diane said,

    I’m just leaving this as a second comment because I forgot to subscribe by email and keeping wondering how to do that. I had already clicked on my last post before I saw this option 🙂

    • Grumpa Joe said,

      It will be worse if we bottle it and allow it to fester into a radicalism not seen before. What is happening is not an injustice, what is happening is a movement to hide the truth from the world. The hearing is an attempt to expose the truth.

      • chavisory said,

        I’m always in favor of finding the truth, but I think that King went into this with what he thought was the truth already pre-ordained.

      • Laura said,

        The problem is that many will not believe the “truth” unless it confirms their preconceived notion of what the “truth” is. Do you really believe that after all this nonsense, King is going to stand up and say, “Our investigation has found that the vast majority of Imams in this country are peace loving Americans who in no way condone the actions of terrorist groups,”?

        He’s looking for a systematic global conspiracy, he’s not going to admit it if he doesn’t find it.

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