89.3 KPCC - Southern California Public Radio
By Kitty Felde
The House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing this week on “the extent of radicalization” in the American Muslim community. One California Republican says the hearing will take a balanced view of an important subject. But some California Democrats worry that the hearing will rev up religious intolerance.
Democrat Jackie Speier of San Mateo is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. She says homegrown terrorism is a serious concern – and a legitimate topic for a hearing. "And it should be broad based to look at those that could in fact be potential terrorists that are within our borders. And that’s a real threat."
But Speier says terrorists should be targeted for their actions, not their religion. She says focusing on Muslims alone sets “a horrible precedent.” She calls it "very problematic, very divisive and very discriminatory."
Speier isn’t the only critic. Fellow Democratic committee member Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana says this is "the first congressional hearing we have ever had based on religion."
Sanchez represents the second largest Muslim community in America. She says focusing on one religious group is shortsighted. "You’re going to be overlooking those who don’t look like what you’re looking for who are actually going to be harm us – like a Timothy McVeigh."
There have been protests and community gatherings in Los Angeles and New York denouncing the hearing. One Muslim leader labels it a “witch hunt.”
Speaking on CNN, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Peter King of New York, dismissed the critics. "They are caught in a world of denial. They want to believe everyone loves each other, we can all hold hands, and kumbaya. My job is to keep Americans alive."
Congressman Dan Lungren is the only California Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. He says he doesn't think "there’s any doubt about the fact that there’s radicalization going on in the Muslim community."
Lungren says there is an agenda for Thursday’s hearing: "It is to confront the reality of the small – some might even say minute percentage – of the Muslim community that appears to be intimidating the moderates in the Muslim community. And unless we recognize that, unless we talk about the radicalization, we don’t help the moderate voices to be heard."
But Democratic Congressman Mike Honda of Gilroy sees a historic parallel. He was an infant when his family and thousands of other Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. "I don’t want to see it happen again to anybody."
Honda recalls the conclusions reached by a congressional commission that examined the reasons why the U.S. government embraced the idea of locking up American citizens of Japanese descent. "One was war hysteria. The second was racial discrimination. And the third was failure of political leadership. And it’s that piece that I think people like myself who understand our history and our own experiences want to be vigilant."
Lungren was vice chairman of that commission. "And I see absolutely nothing in what we’re doing that in any way, shape or form compares with that."
Lungren says there is a "reality of radicalization that is going on that we see – not just in the United States, but in other places. And unless we examine it, we run the risk of generalizations against an entire religion or an entire group. And we don’t want that to happen."
Among those testifying at Thursday’s hearing are the relatives of two men who became radicalized Muslims. Also addressing the panel: L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who’s been in the forefront of dialogue between law enforcement and Southern California’s Muslim community.
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