Why 'Muslim threat' hearings contribute to climate of hate

OPINION - Rep. Peter King may purport that he is tired of 'political correctness', but the reality is that the exact polar opposite has consumed us ever since 9/11...

Rep. Peter King may assert that his Congressional hearings on the alleged “radicalization” of Muslim-Americans isn’t an attempt to further marginalize a religious minority. He will continue to insist that these proceedings aren’t a witch-hunt, and won’t lead to a backlash against Muslims in this country. But by singling out a specific group and sending stark messages of “otherness”, the damage is already done. Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with the ramifications of a climate of hatred — my father was a victim of it.

By now we’re all well aware of the rampant spike in violence committed against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim following the 9/11 attacks. But what is all too often glanced over is the more subtle ways in which the American psyche has been altered towards anyone viewed to be from a specific region in the world, or simply as “foreign”.

With mainstream media coverage that continually depicts Arabs, South Asians and other Muslims only in a terroristic context, it should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans will sooner rather than later have an unfavorable view towards this group, irrespective of whether or not these individuals are U.S. born, citizens or immigrants. And though blatant vicious attacks like a cab driver getting slashed in New York City for being Muslim make headlines, it’s the less overt transformation of people’s subconscious that can be just as detrimental, and can just as easily play out in a real life or death situation.

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It was exactly six years ago on March 6, 2005 when my father, a devoted husband and parent of four, was leaving a grocery store in a small, conservative neighborhood in NJ. This was a routine trip for the architect who first came to the United States nearly four decades prior.

As he exited this grocery store, an SUV failed to yield to the pedestrian, struck him, he flew back several feet, landed on his back, sustained massive head trauma and virtually lost his ability to speak. In ‘05, at the height of Bush-era hostility and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, the police and EMT of this town arrived at the scene, and without properly assessing the extent of my father’s injuries, automatically assumed that he could not speak English.

They placed a “language barrier” on their report, sent him to a non-trauma hospital (despite the fact that there was a trauma facility equally distant). It wasn’t until nearly five hours later that he was transferred to a trauma hospital, by which time my father fell into a deep coma and died three days later.
As I reflect on this sixth anniversary and continue to grapple with the loss, I cannot help but ponder what contributing factors lead to his untimely death – especially the biased/bigoted behavior of those hired to protect us. Sadly, the tragedy didn’t end there. The accused driver in this case was given extensive support from the police department who only issued a ‘careless driving’ ticket nearly a month after the accident. The prosecutor continuously expressed his concern over the driver’s state and well being instead of standing up for the families’ rights. It was, in essence, a bureaucratic systematic disregard for my father’s civil rights. Even at the precise moment when he was dying, this hard-working man was treated like a second-class citizen.

Rep. King may purport that he is tired of “political correctness”, but the reality is that the exact polar opposite has consumed us ever since 9/11 — especially by those within his party. Following that fateful September morning that forever altered our way of life, it has become acceptable and sometimes even encouraged to openly criticize Muslims, Islam and immigrants. Continuously depicted as violent extremists out to get us, Muslims are automatically thrown into the notion of collective guilt every time an individual acts out who happens to be of the same religious/ethnic persuasion.

When a Jared Loughner, the accused Tucson shooter, commits an act of violence, he is referred to as a “disturbed young man”, but if it’s someone with a “foreign sounding name”, he/she is automatically a terrorist working for a larger cause. And with the existence of over 1,000 hate groups in the nation today – virtually a direct result of Barack Obama serving as our 44th President — why is King not investigating them for extremist behavior?

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Last month, Duke University and the University of North Carolina published a report titled ‘Muslim American Terrorism Since 9/11: An Accounting.” According to this study, tips from within the Muslim American community served as the source of information that lead to a thwarted terrorist plot in 48 out of 120 cases. If more than 1 out of every 3 foiled acts are a direct result of a Muslim American stepping forward, how can King even begin to argue that Muslims and their religious leaders aren’t cooperating with the FBI? Even after several incidents where members of a mosque reported someone inciting extremist behavior — only to find out that individual was a covert agent – American Muslims by and large are voluntarily contacting authorities at the slightest hint of radical behavior.

This past weekend, an Arab American documentary filmmaker in Iowa was allegedly beaten by a group of men who spewed racial epithets towards him. It’s no coincidence that this most recent attack took place days before King’s proceedings. With such heightened focus on the Congressman’s fear mongering, McCarthy-like escapades, the nation is once again thrown into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.

As I visit my father’s grave on this anniversary, I cannot help but wonder how many other silent victims are out there that don’t make major news, and how many other incidents routinely occur where the subconscious brainwashing of individuals results in discrimination that is virtually impossible to prove in a court of law. Whatever may or may not transpire out of these hearings, Peter King can rest assured that ‘those Muslims’ are once again on the minds of every American. Mission accomplished.