Less than three weeks after a much-criticized House Republican hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, Senate Democrats countered Tuesday with a hearing of their own — this one focusing on protecting the civil rights of Muslims.
The two hearings highlight the chasm between the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate on the issue of balancing the religious and civil rights of Muslims against the need to protect the country against radical offshoots of Islam.
“We should all agree that it is wrong to blame an entire community for the wrongdoing of a few,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin said in his opening remarks Tuesday. “Guilt by association is not the American way, and American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as every other American.”
The Illinois Democrat said that while Muslims compose less than 1 percent of the American population, they account for 14 percent of Department of Justice (DOJ) religious discrimination cases and about 25 percent of religious discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said he was “perplexed” by the direction of the hearing, adding, “If we’re concerned about the most egregious religious hate crimes, then I wonder why we’re not talking about crimes against Jews and Christians.” He pointed to the most recent DOJ statistics that show almost 72 percent of the hate crimes were anti-Jewish, 8.4 percent were anti-Islam, and 6.4 percent were anti-Christian.
“The point here is all bigotry is to be condemned, but we’re only credible if we’re principled in our condemnation,” he said. “Selective indignation is not helpful.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, agreed that religious freedom must be protected, but argued that efforts to recruit and radicalize young Muslims in Americans can’t be ignored.
“The front lines of this war are at our own backdoor — in our own neighborhoods,” he said. “So to the American Muslim community, I will stand with you as you practice your religion and exercise your rights under the Constitution, but I’m asking you to get into this fight as a community.”
The back-and-forth reflects the opposing stances of party leaders and came less than a month after Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, came under fire for holding a House Homeland Security Committee hearing to investigate the effect radical Islam is having on Muslims living in the United States.
Mr. King has maintained his stance, saying that political correctness won’t stop him from doing everything in his power to protect the country from another terrorist attack.
Heading into the Senate hearing, Mr. King told Fox News that the meeting made no sense to him because it would simply help to perpetuate the “illusion that there’s a violation of civil rights of Muslims in this country.”
Mr. Durbin returned fire minutes into Tuesday’s hearing, highlighting a statement from Mr. King in which he said, “There are too many mosques in this country.” He also pointed to comments from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a possible Republican candidate for president, who said the nation is “experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”
“Some have even questioned the premise of today’s hearing that we should protect the civil rights of American Muslims,” Mr. Durbin said. “Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination.”
Corey Saylor, the director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), thanked Mr. Durbin for demonstrating “true leadership in seeking to reinforce the rights of a minority faith” and rebutting “the violent extremists who claim Islam cannot get fair treatment in America.”
The Justice Department, in a statement released Tuesday said it is “actively working” to protect American Muslims, as well as members of the Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities, from threats and violence directed at them because of their religion or ethnicity.
The department said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington it has investigated more than 800 attacks or threats against persons perceived to be Muslim or to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South-Asian origin, with 46 convictions to date.