By Jordy Yager - 03/09/11 09:08 PM EST
More than 50 Democrats on Wednesday pleaded with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) to cancel his panel’s hearing on radicalization within the Muslim American community.
A group of 56 lawmakers said in a letter to King that the hearing will jeopardize trust between Muslims in the U.S. and law enforcement officials, adding that “the stated narrow scope and underlying premises of these hearings unfairly stigmatizes and alienates Muslim Americans.”
“Singling out one religious group and blaming the actions of individuals on an entire community is not only unfair, it is unwise — and it will not make our country any safer,” the group of lawmakers wrote in the letter.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), made the same plea to King last month. But King responded that he “will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.”
The hearing has sparked a furor in the media and among Islamic and civil-liberty groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that say Muslims are being unfairly targeted. They have called for King to cast a wider net that encompasses neo-Nazis and environmental extremists.
King told the Hill on Tuesday that he was somewhat surprised by the public outcry over the hearings because the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has held multiple hearings of the same nature over the past several years, with little or no opposition.
Hearings before the Senate panel have included titles such as: “Violent Islamist Extremism: Al-Shabaab Recruitment in America,” “The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It” and “Violent Islamist Extremism: Government Efforts to Defeat It.”
The letter on Wednesday was signed by the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (Calif.); the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank (Mass.); the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. (Mich.); and the House Education and Labor Committee, George Miller (Calif.).
The only two Muslims in Congress, Reps. Andre Carson (Ind.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.), also signed the letter, as did New York Reps. Gregory Meeks and Jose Serrano.
Others to sign the letter were Democratic Reps. Jim Moran (Va.), John Dingell (Mich.), Michael Capuano (Mass.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) and Raul Grijalva (Ariz.).
“I am proud to represent a diverse community where Muslim Americans make valuable contributions to our society each day,” said Moran in a statement. “Hearings that call into question the loyalty of a group of American citizens based upon their religious faith does not reflect our nation’s values and is counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.
"I strongly urge Chairman King to call off these hearings or expand their scope to include all forms of violent extremism."
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on Wednesday shied away from condemning or endorsing the hearing, and instead stressed the need to unite the public around the common goal of protecting America's national security.
"In a nation founded on diversity and strengthened by the contributions of many faiths, including those of Muslim Americans, we must never use religion as a wedge to divide the American people," Pelosi said in a statement.
"Instead, we must state in a united voice: Violence in the name of any religion is a betrayal of our fundamental values as Americans. And any responsible national security strategy must be rooted in facts, fairness and an unending commitment to the rights and liberties of every American."
This story was updated at 4:21 p.m.