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Should an attacker’s religion matter when a neighbor is killed?

Now that Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) has opened a hearing into the radicalization of American Muslims, we might pause to ask: “If a neighbor is murdered, would the attacker's religion matter to us?”
 Linda S. Wallace

Now that Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has opened a hearing into the radicalization of American Muslims, we might pause to ask: “If a neighbor is murdered, would the attacker's religion matter to us?”

A community’s tears flow as freely for a daughter stabbed in an argument as they do for an innocent person struck down by a bomb. That leaves reasonable people to wonder why these hearings aren’t targeting all extremists instead of focusing narrowly on Muslim Americans, the vast majority of who are African Americans.

The Southern Poverty Law Center just a few weeks ago released its count of active hate groups in America. A staggering 1,002 active groups in American communities have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. These haters represent all backgrounds, religions and races. For the record, Mississippi had 40; Tennessee, 35; Pennsylvania, 36, Arkansas, 29 and Texas weighed in at 59.

These alarming facts might lead some to wonder why some in Congress seemed drawn to punish Islam? America needs a research-based, evidence-driven strategy for fighting terror; not a campaign infused by preconceptions and biases.

Let’s say police officers wanted to slow down drivers on a busy street.  Since the department had limited personnel, officers decided to stop all black cars for speeding. As soon as drivers in red cars, blue cars, yellow cars and green cars realize they don’t fit the profile, they feel free to speed along and break the law. Selective campaigns in the war on terror therefore only serve to increase dangers for groups that are the most frequent targets: African Americans, Jews, and gay and lesbians.

Rep. King claims American Muslims have not been cooperating with law enforcement authorities and that the dangers from attack are greater than ever. A study released recently by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security shows that the number of Muslim-Americans who perpetrated or were arrested for terrorist acts declined sharply in 2010.  Moreover, tips from the Muslim-American community provided the source of information that led to a terrorist plot being thwarted in 48 of 120 cases involving Muslim Americans.

Under President Barack Obama the White House has led the unity chorus, a role it has assumed time and again. Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough was dispatched over the weekend to a mosque in Sterling, Va., to make it clear the administration did not intend to stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the acts of a few.

“Let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with us all,” McDonough said.

Meanwhile, as America was fixated on the Muslims, the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico quietly began to take tiny steps in the right direction: self-reflection. After the Mexican government began looking into a Catholic chapel built with funds donated by a drug trafficker known as the executioner, the Mexican Roman Catholic Church began to take a closer look at its historic ties to the high-profile drug dealers who leave a trail of blood in their wake.

Every religion, if honest, has questionable ties and relationships – be it with predatory lenders, con artists, drug dealers, arms dealers, KKK, skinheads, domestic abusers, child abusers or terrorists. So none of us can really afford to point the finger.

Instead of singling out Islam, we have a golden moment to come together and press all churches, synagogues and mosques to look within and review their connections with extremist groups in violent causes.

If we did, think how much safer the world would be. The foreign and domestic dollars currently used for fighting hate and terror might then be invested in education, which is the best investment in security we could ever make.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Read her blog, Cultural IQ.)

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