The Intolerance Industry

Today marked the start of hearings called by Rep. Peter King - a set of hearings to examine the radicalization of Muslims within the United States and the threat they pose to the rest of America. Since the hearings have been focused solely on radical Islam and no other forms or sources of terrorism, they have been called a glorified “witch hunt” by many, and have become reminiscent of McCarthyism and the Cold War to others.

Watching the hearings, I had to swallow my disgust at what some testimonies were explaining to be true: that the American Muslims pose a threat to the rest of the United States. They start by radicalizing our youth, and end by taking over the world. Listening to the plea of one father of a radicalized college student, where he stated that Muslims were bound to “go after our children” and that Muslims “are coming for American babies,” I couldn’t help but think about how his case was really an isolated incident – terrible, tragic, but certainly not representative of the American Muslim community. And then I thought, “Why would anyone invent these blanket statements about Muslims?”

Of course, one reason is obvious. Part of the reason this theory exists and spreads is a reason that has motivated so many others in the past: money. Sarah Posner in Religion Dispatches recently outlined very clearly how those who wish to uphold this irrational and non-factual fear of Islam are actually benefiting monetarily for their statements. Hosts of “unqualified experts” make up definitions of shari’ah law, then write books demonizing Muslims for it, and end up becoming bestselling authors.

My own path has crossed with unqualified experts many times. While I was a student at DePaul University, a group of students put on “Terrorism Awareness Week”, or “Islamofascism Awareness Week” as it was known at other campuses. These students paid a hefty price tag for a speaker to come to campus to talk about how Muslims were poisoning America. When faced with protest groups of Muslim students and their supporters, the speaker replied that we were a minority within Islam, and that we were complicit because we were ignoring the “real threat” to the “regular, Christian Americans”. Though we felt that our protests were successful in getting the attention of our peers on campus, the real successor was the guy who left that day with a pretty big paycheck.

What has become more disheartening is how this industry is fueling radical Islam rather than stamping it out. In an article on his blog, Stephen Prothero explains his fear that “these hearings will serve as a recruiting bonanza for terrorists worldwide.” So in fact, what these hearings are doing is bringing to light extremist organizations, and then providing them with the rhetoric they need to convince others that the United States hates Muslims.

These are two separate industries who feed off of one another. What we can do in response is to bring to light real American Muslims, like Rep. Keith Ellison telling the story of Muhammad Salman Hamdani, who as a first responder sacrificed his life on September 11th. What we can do is come together, not to taunt American Muslims by equating them all with terrorists, but rather to fight the real evils we are facing in our country today: extreme poverty, food injustice, disaster relief, among many others. When faced with these real problems that afflict real Americans day in and day out, we can only answer that we need members of all faith and non-faith communities to join together to fight these ills. And upon seeing our impact, we will come to realize that at the end, we are better together.