Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
112th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mr. President, I rise today to share my thoughts on the hearings held last week in the House of Representatives called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Congressional hearings are supposed to serve as an important role of oversight, investigation, or education, among other purposes. However, this particular hearing--billed as the first of a series--served only to fan flames of fear and division. 

My first concern is the title of the hearing--targeting one community. That is wrong. Each of us has a responsibility to speak out when communities are unfairly targeted. 

In 1975, the United States joined all the countries of Europe and established the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the OSCE. The Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission to monitor U.S. participation and compliance with these commitments. The OSCE contains commitments in three areas or baskets: security, economics, and human rights. Best known for its human rights advancements, the OSCE has been aggressive in advancing these commitments in each of the OSCE states. The OSCE stands for religious freedom and protection of minority rights. 

I am the Senate chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In that capacity, I have raised human rights issues in other countries, such as in France when, in the name of national security, the Parliament banned burqas and wearing of all religious articles or when the Swiss restricted the building of mosques or minarets. 

These policies were restrictive not only to the religious practice of Muslims but also Christians, Jews, and others who would seek to wear religious symbols and practice their religion as they saw fit. 

I have also raised human rights issues in the United States when we were out of compliance with our Helsinki commitments. In that spirit, I find it necessary to speak out against the congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Peter King. 

Rather than constructively using the power of Congress to explore how we as a nation can use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent future terrorist attacks and defeat those individuals and groups who want to do us harm, this spectacle crossed the line and chipped away at the religious freedoms and civil liberties we hold so dearly. 

Radicalization may be the appropriate subject of a congressional hearing but not when it is limited to one religion. When that is done, it sends the wrong message to the public and casts a religion with unfounded suspicions. 

Congressman King's hearing is part of a disturbing trend to demonize Muslims taking place in our country and abroad. Instead, we need to engage the Muslim community in the United States. 

A cookie-cutter approach to profile what a terrorist looks like will not work. As FBI Director Mueller recently testified to the Senate: 

“... During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved. A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences, and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.” 

Let us remember that a number of terrorist attacks have been prevented or disrupted due to informants from the Muslim community who contacted law enforcement officials. 

I commend Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller for increasing their outreach to the Arab-American community. As Attorney General Holder said: 

“Let us not forget it was a Muslim-American who first alerted the New York police to a smoking car in Times Square. And his vigilance likely helped to save lives. He did his part to avert tragedy, just as millions of other Arab-Americans are doing their parts and proudly fulfilling the responsibility of citizenship.”

We need to encourage this type of cooperation between our government and law enforcement agencies in the Muslim community. 

As the threat from al-Qaida changes and evolves over time, the piece of the puzzle is even more important to get right. FBI Director Mueller testified before the House recently that: 

At every opportunity I have, I reaffirm the fact that 99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anyone else in this room, and that many of the anti-terrorism cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community and the United States. 

As leaders in Congress, we must live up to our Nation's highest ideals and protect civil liberties, even in wartime when they are most challenged. The 9/11 Commission summed up this well when they wrote: 

The terrorists have used our open society against us. In wartime, government calls for greater powers, and then the need for those powers recedes after the war ends. This struggle will go on. Therefore, while protecting our homeland, Americans must be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right. 

I agree with Attorney General Holder's recent speech to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he stated: 

“In this Nation, our many faiths, origins, and appearances must bind us together, not break us apart. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land--the Constitution--is meant to empower, not exclude. And in this Nation, security and liberty are--at their best--partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.”

Actions, such as the hearing held last week, that pit us against one another based on our religious beliefs, weaken our country and its freedoms and ultimately do nothing to make our country any safer. Hearings such as the one held last week only serve as a distraction from our real goals and provide fuel for those who are looking for excuses to find fault or blame in our way of life. 

Let's not go the way of other countries but instead hold dear the protections in our Constitution that safeguard the individual's right to freely practice their religion and forbid a religious test to hold public office in the United States. Our country's strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear the government will imprison us for criticizing the government or holding a religious belief that is not shared by the majority of Americans. 

On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by terrorists in a way we thought impossible. Thousands of innocent men, women, and children of all races, religions, and backgrounds were murdered. As the 10-year anniversary of these attacks draws closer, we continue to hold these innocent victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to fight terrorism and bring terrorists to justice. 

After that attack, I went back to my congressional district in Maryland at that time and made three visits as a Congressman. First I visited a synagogue and prayed with the community. Then I visited a mosque and prayed with the community. Then I went to a church and prayed with the community. My message was clear on that day: We all needed to join together as a nation to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice. We all stood together on that day regardless of our background or personal beliefs. 

But my other message was equally important: We cannot allow the events of September 11 to demonize a particular community, religion, or creed. Such actions of McCarthyism harken back to darker days in our history. National security concerns were used inappropriately and led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being stripped of their property and rights and placed in internment camps in 1942, though not a single act of espionage was ever established. 

The United States should not carry out a crusade against any particular religion as a response to 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. The United States will not tolerate hate crimes against any group, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and we should not allow our institutions, including Congress, to be used to foment intolerance and injustice. Let's come together as a nation and move forward in a more constructive and hopeful manner.

Leadership: 
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