Congresswoman Jackie Speier

Proudly Representing San Francisco and the Peninsula


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Practicing guilt by association

March 11, 2011

See the original piece here.

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, one of their first acts was to read the Constitution aloud. I thought that was a valuable and important exercise to remind all Members of the words in our nation’s guiding document. On January 6, my friend and colleague Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) took the floor and said: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That reading of the First Amendment sits in striking contrast to the hearing House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) conducted yesterday. The title of the hearing was the “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” but what’s truly radical is using Committee time and resources to profile and demonize an entire community of people based on their faith.

As a Member of the Committee, I understand the importance of protecting the American people from a future attack. Radicalization and homegrown terrorism are serious and legitimate concerns and deserve thoughtful examination, not an ideologically motivated charade.

American Muslims are peaceful law abiding citizens and many have cooperated with U.S. authorities to help prevent terrorist attacks. More than one-fifth of the post-9/11 Islamist terrorism cases originated with tips from the Muslim community. As Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca put it: “Since 9/11, 77 extremist efforts or attacks have been carried out by non-Muslim extremists in the United States. In addition, of the last 10 terror plots attempted by Muslims, seven of them have been thwarted by Muslims coming forward.”

Baca’s important point is that we should target terrorists based on actions, not religion. When state law enforcement agencies were asked to identify terror groups in their jurisdictions, Muslim extremists ranked 11th on a list of 18. Neo-Nazis, environmental extremists and anti-tax groups were all more prevalent.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Assessments concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy. Arizona gunman Jared Loughner clearly falls into this category.

Yet the response to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and 18 other people has prompted even more gun purchases there, possibly by people like Loughner. In fact, a recent undercover sting by the New York City Police Department of a gun show in Arizona revealed how easy it is for people who are on the prohibited list to obtain guns and ammunition.

In my state of California, the Department of Justice estimates that the over 18,000 names on its prohibited list—which includes those who have committed felonies, domestic violence misdemeanors, and are mentally unstable— possess over 34,000 guns. Yet where is the push for stronger gun safety laws? Why do we refuse to limit the availability of weapons of mass destruction in these cases, but are all too willing and eager to target law-abiding Muslim communities as potential terrorists?

Congress should not be practicing guilt by association. It undermines the values we stand for as Americans. At a time when we need the cooperation of Muslim-Americans in uncovering potential terrorist plots, targeting their religion for an inquiry sends a dangerous message. We have to be careful that our actions do not reinforce stereotypes and fear mongering, and alienate those very communities whose help we need.

Describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al-Qaeda to justify terrorism—that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we never have and never will be at war with any peaceful religion. Our enemy is al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates and we must continue efforts to defeat them wherever they exist.

One key to combating extremism is winning the hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims here and around the world. But hearings like this will only inflame anti-American sentiment. The American people deserve better.