There is no one less connected to reality than an ecumenist battling the evil forces of racism. National Council of Churches General Secretary Michael Kinnamon demonstrates this in an exclamation point-riddled rant against hearings that Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is holding tomorrow.
Kinnamon starts off with the slaughter of American Indians, slavery, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Starting off with wild rhetorical excess (a better comparison, if he was actually interested in being fair, might have been the Army-McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s), he then proceeds to complete distortion:
Today, we look back on these horrifying events with anguished remorse; and yet I wonder if we’ve learned anything from history. Today, millions of Muslim Americans are subjected to thoughtless generalizations, open discrimination, and outright hostility because of a tiny minority whose acts of violence deny the teachings of the Quran and are denounced by other Muslims! No matter what Rep. King may say, his hearings convey the implicit message that Muslims aren’t part of “us”—and to this sort of bigotry, all citizens of conscience must say NO! When the family portrait of this country is painted, Muslims should have, must have, an honored place in it.
For the record, the hearings are titled, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” In other words, King is trying to determine the extent to which radical Islam–a murderous creed that has spurred adherents to kill tens of thousands in the United States and around the world–has infiltrated into the Muslim community. The idea is not to demonize Muslims in general, but to determine how far radicalization has gone in order to aid moderate Muslims to confront it and root it out.
This is what was done in congressional hearings in the 1990s on the militia movement, the Aryan Nations, and other radical elements that claimed ties to Christianity. Yet I recall no outrage from the NCC at that time over the attempt by Congress to “convey the implicit message that [Christians] aren’t part of ‘us’.” In fact, what Kinnamon is doing here is undermining the support he wants to give to the Muslim community, by implying that the extremist elements in their midst are somehow immune from investigation, unlike those of other communities. He sounds like those people in the 1950s and 1960s who said that Congress had no business investigating the Mafia because it would besmirch all Italian-Americans. But the rest of the country is smart enough to be able to distinguish between the small sub-set of a community under investigation and the rest of it.
As this indicates, Rep. King’s assertion that Muslims have not spoken out forcefully enough against extremism is simply wrong—indeed, it is slanderous. If he wants to investigate extremism, then do so—but do not target one entire religion!
What? Has Kinnamon even bothered to look over the witness list to see who will be testifying? The witnesses include two fathers whose sons were radicalized and went on to commit murder and acts of terror; the sheriff of Los Angeles County, a strong supporter of the Committee on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); the head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; and two congressmen, Frank Wolf of Virginia and the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison of Minnesota. That indicates, not a witch hunt, but a specific focus on a particular form of extremism that is an undeniable threat to public safety and homeland security. It also indicates a attempt at balance rather than an expression of bigotry. But Kinnamon is apparently not the type to let the facts get in the way of a good rant.
As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, I care deeply about US security and about the wellbeing of Christians in places where extremism is prevalent. But so do millions of Muslims across this country! In the same way, the churches of the NCC affirm that we must care about the wellbeing, the dignity, of Muslims in our midst. On behalf of the fifty million members of our churches, I declare as loudly as possible that whenever Muslims are threatened or demeaned, so are we—because “today we are Muslims, too”!
The only Muslims threatened by the King hearings are those whose activities in support of terrorism might get exposed. If those are really the kinds of people that Kinnamon wants to defend, whose activities he wants to keep under cover, let him do it, as the NCC slides ever farther down into the dustbin of history.
UPDATE: For one Muslim perspective on this, check out this piece by Asra Nomani in the Washington Post. And don’t miss the comments–they give a good illustration of why hearings such as these are needed.
UPDATE: Jim Wallis takes on what he thinks is the “theological mistake” of the hearings:
One cause is that the terrorists are making gains in the theological battle. The terrorist’s ideology claims that every action they take is part of a global battle between Islam and the West. They want to convince the world that Islam is right and good, and that the West is wrong and Evil. And it helps the terrorists immeasurably when Americans say, in effect, that West is right and good, and that Islam is wrong and evil. Every time American voices say or imply that, it is counted by the terrorists as a victory. They love to point to those stories in the American media, and to use them to justify their cause, make themselves more righteous, and recruit more terrorists.
I would agree with him, if that’s what was happening. In fact, American political leaders have bent over backward to be clear that we have no quarrel with Islam. Rather, our fight is against the radicals who despise our values of religious freedom, individual liberty, and gender equality, and who are more than happy to destroy the West in order to destroy those values. President Bush began sounding that note within a week after 9/11, and it has been the consistent mantra in both the executive and legislative branches–including by Peter King–ever since. It has been those on the irresponsible left who have been trying to obliterate that distinction, and trying to claim that any attempt to stop radical Islam is an attack on Islam itself.
Wallis says that he understands the need to fight terrorism, and to stand up to radical Islam, but he, like Kinnamon, has bought into the idea that you can’t distinguish the two. If we can’t, however, it becomes impossible to fight the genuine threat.