- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2011

You may have read about the hearings in the House of Representatives on homegrown terrorism, chaired by Republican Rep. Peter King of New York. Mr. King was lambasted by our enlightened elites for orchestrating a narrow-minded assault on law-abiding Muslims. Yet, now more than ever Muslims are killing people here in America and yelling “Allah Akhbar” in the process. Perhaps we should look into it, Mr. King suggested.

On the heels of Mr. King’s hearings, a United States Senate panel, chaired by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, heard testimony on assorted threats allegedly faced by Muslims in America. This Senate hearing was not besmirched by balance, presenting witnesses who uniformly claimed “victim” status and condemned the “growing menace” of Islamophobia. This notwithstanding that, according to the FBI, anti-Muslim “hate crimes” have dropped since the aftermath of Sep. 11, 2001, and now total fewer than one-eighth the number of such crimes directed at Jews.

Some have wondered whether the Senate hearing was an overreaction to a quite rational concern about the increasing incidence of domestic, Islamist-inspired terror plots. Be that as it may, count me as one in favor of a conversation about protecting Muslims. Frankly, if we can assure the civil rights of our Muslim friends - in the United States and abroad - we’ll advance the cause of individual liberty everywhere.

Unfortunately, however, Mr. Durbin did not focus on the real problem. His panel should have been more thorough in airing the likely concerns of genuinely peaceful Muslims. Hoping that future hearings will address these critical issues forthrightly, an illustrative (but hardly exhaustive) list of agenda items is offered below.

First, having the same civil liberties as their Christian and Jewish counterparts, young Muslim women should have the ability to choose their friends - and even their boyfriends - without being murdered by their families. Yet numerous “honor killings” have occurred in this country. We owe it to ourselves and to these young women to protect them from such uncivilized atrocities.

Similarly, and pardon me, but Muslim girls should be able to grow to adulthood with their genitals intact. Although female genital mutilation is rare in the United States, it is inflicted on many females in many Muslim-dominated countries. Young girls in America should never be disfigured in this cruel fashion.

In our country, state laws establishing a minimum age for marriage protect young girls. These protections apply equally to Muslim girls and to females of other faiths. No eight-year old should ever have to fear that she’ll be forced into the bed of a middle-aged man, yet this is a common occurrence in Muslim countries. Clearly, it’s one against which we must protect our young women without regard to religion.

Our laws, appropriately, also protect all females against rape. Recently, in Bangladesh, a 14-year old girl who had been raped by a married man was lashed to death, on orders from a Muslim imam, for having an “illicit” sexual relationship. Three-quarters of the women now jailed in Pakistan are imprisoned on charges of adultery or fornication because they were raped. Just think: Under Shariah law, after being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by an unspeakable sexual predator, Elizabeth Smart would be the guilty one. By all means, we should protect women in this country from such barbaric practices.

Our divorce laws are also important. Like other Americans, Muslim women should be able to divorce abusive or adulterous husbands without being beaten or - as in one recent case in this country - beheaded - for their temerity.

In Iran, women are required to ride in the back of the bus (I am not making this up), and in several Muslim countries are forbidden to go outdoors unless escorted by a male relative. Happily, in America we’ve overcome that “back of the bus” issue, and all citizens - including Muslims - are better for it. Here, not only can Muslim women go outdoors, they can go to school without having acid thrown in their faces by Muslim men, hold jobs, and vote. We should keep it that way.

Our First Amendment freedom of religion benefits all of us, including Muslims. We can leave our religion for another (or for none) without being murdered for exercising this fundamental human right.

Moreover, because of our First Amendment freedom of speech, we have the right to criticize any religion or political viewpoint, without any penalty - and, by the way, without being murdered.

Although she did so grudgingly and only after being pressed on the point, Mr. Durbin’s star witness Farhena Khera conceded that it is “inappropriate” - apparently even for Muslims - to kill people simply because of their religious views.

In our country, there are many things we Americans dislike but nevertheless tolerate. These include our children’s choices about marriage and religion, and statements or actions by others that we consider offensive to our religious beliefs.

Under our Constitution, we must protect the right - and insist on the obligation - of our Muslim fellow citizens to respect individual religious choices and to react in a civil and restrained fashion to perceived insults to any religion. This goes hand in hand with being Americans and with being civilized.

So, we certainly should be concerned about the civil rights of Muslims. But we should honestly acknowledge that the gravest threats to peaceful Muslims - in this nation and abroad - come from other Muslims.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.

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