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King hearings on Muslim Americans: When government hits on one group

The House hearings chaired by Rep. King focused almost solely on Muslim Americans. Such religious stereotyping by any government body is dangerous.

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When government makes assumptions about a whole group of people, it’s not the same as a private group doing the same. With the power of the state comes a need to avoid stereotypes that might lead to an official denial of freedom and rights.

That simple lesson seems to have been lost in the hearings that opened Thursday by the House Homeland Security Committee.

The focus of the hearings, as framed by the chairman, Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, is solely on the American Muslim community and its response to Al Qaeda’s attempt to radicalize individual members.

For sure, Al Qaeda has shifted to recruiting agents in US mosques or online. And Muslims in America could do more to identify extremists in their communities and to cooperate with counterterrorism law enforcement.

But the same could also be said of other groups that sometimes spawn terrorists, such as white supremacists, anti-abortionists, radical environmentalists, right-wing antigovernment militias, or even street gangs. In fact, since 2008, there have been twice as many terror plots by nonMuslim groups as by extremist Muslims.

Those other groups were not included in the focus of these hearings. And if they were, then the issue would correctly be on how to thwart individual extremists who justify killing out of a distortion of a theology or ideology.

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