As Rep. Peter King (R-NY) prepares to hold a congressional inquiry into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community and homegrown terrorism,” faith leaders in and around his district are forcefully asking him to cancel the hearings. Over 80 representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu congregations on Long Island signed a letter to King expressing their concern that his hearings will “only further divide our community and undermine our nation’s highest ideals.”
While King has said he does not “want anything said at my hearing that could justify someone throwing a brick at a mosque,” his isolation of Muslim extremism as the only domestic terror threat, along with a history of troubling statements about Islam — he once said there are “too many mosques in this country” — concerns the faith leaders:
Protecting our nation requires allegiance to the fundamental values that give life to our democracy. A commitment to pluralism and respect for diversity are strengths in the fight against terrorism. We agree that law enforcement must find practical solutions to stop terrorism, whether these threats come from religious or nonreligious extremists. Muslim-Americans have consistently denounced terrorism and worked closely with law enforcement to prevent violence. Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering this cooperation, and we fear your hearings will only sow greater distrust and division at a time when unity and moral courage are needed.
A more constructive approach to strengthening the bonds of trust that bolster our security and protect our values would be convening a dialogue among faith leaders, law enforcement and elected officials such as yourself. It is with a spirit of goodwill and sincere hope that we propose beginning such an initiative with you.
King has already dialed back some of the more blatantly Islamophobic aspects of his hearings. He cancelled planned testimony from witness who believes “Islam is a cult,” and is refusing to call several hateful right-wing fearmongers despite some conservative pressure to do so.
Nevertheless, his narrowly focused inquiry is still potential red meat for an impressionable segment of Americans who hold anti-Muslim sentiments. A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found a “significant correlation” between evangelical Christians who watch Fox News and negative attitudes towards Islam. Fox News has for weeks been giving King a platform to promote and defend his hearings.