Pete King, Americaâ€™s new McCarthy
By Seema Jilani
March 2011–Seema Jilani is a physician who specializes in Pediatrics, and concentrates on International Health Care. She has worked in Israel, Palestine, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and the Balkans. She has been a freelance journalist for Pacifica Radio for eight years. Her radio documentary, Israel and Palestine: The Human Cost of The Occupation, was nominated for The Peabody Award. Dr. Jilaniâ€™s work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Newsweek, The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers.
As our new chairman of the House homeland security committee, I see that you have established congressional hearings on Muslim Americans to investigate the threat of homegrown terrorism, starting on 10 March.
Just so I can rehearse, exactly how American would you like me to be?
Can I just lip sync the Toby Keith lyrics at my hearing, or do I actually have to don the American flag as a bandana, too? After all, my family and I need to prepare for our big day in court.
Since your hearings have been set up to demonstrate that Muslim Americans are, as you say, â€œuncooperative with authoritiesâ€, might I direct you to the new study by the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security? It found that tips from Muslim Americans provided information that helped authorities thwart terrorist plots in 48 of 120 cases. The report further notes that: â€œMuslim Americans have been so concerned about extremists in their midst that they have turned in people who turned out to be undercover informants.â€ Donâ€™t take my word for it, though. The director of the National Counter terrorism Centre, Michael Leiter, FBI Director Robert S Mueller III and US Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr have all praised the American Muslim community for playing an instrumental role in assisting law enforcement agencies.
A little strange, then, that apparently, you wonâ€™t be calling any law enforcement officials.
However, you are correct; there have been plenty of terrorist attacks that no Muslim has brought to a halt. Not one Muslim turned in Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner, or the gunman who killed the security guard at the Washington DC Holocaust Museum, or Timothy McVeigh, or the Virginia Tech shooter. Perhaps the inconvenient truth here is that none of those terrorists were Muslim. Fifty-one Muslim, civil rights and interfaith groups, including 15 rabbis, sent a letter to you calling for the investigation of all extremists, rather than just Muslims, but you claimed this would be â€œpolitical correctness at its worstâ€.
Considering you now assert that there are â€œtoo many mosques in this countryâ€, I should remind you of your campaigning days, when you gave speeches at mosques and held book signings in Muslim prayer halls.
Let us examine who will testify at your witchhunt, which will convene next week. For one, there is Dr Zuhdi Jasser. How convenient. An active Republican who has supported the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Dr Jasser is quoted as saying that Islam harbours â€œinsidious supremacismâ€.
As if every other faith does not. Your own Muslim colleague, Congressman Keith Ellison (Democratic-Farmer-Labour party representative for Minnesotaâ€™s fifth district), is also scheduled to appear.
I wonder, will you also call Jalat Hamdani, whose son Mohammad Salman Hamdani was an emergency medical technician (EMT) who died in the World Trade Centre on 9/11? Will the thousands of Muslims that serve in our military also testify? Will you ask them to defend their loyalty to this country? When would you like to schedule their testimonies:
before, or after, the leg amputations resulting from IEDs that have injured many of them during their tours of duty?
Estimates as to how many Muslims serve in the military range from 4,000 to 15,000. There is no accurate count of how many Muslims actually serve in the military because most are fearful of stating their religion, or afraid of the repercussions of doing so.
I could be Americaâ€™s poster child: born in the US, hailing from a middle-class family, a child of immigrants who worked tirelessly, believing, to this day, in the American dream. We were raised based on idealistic principles of liberty, equality and social justice, all sentiments embodied in the Constitution. (I can send you a copy, since it seems youâ€™ve lost yours.) My father, a Republican, flew the American flag outside our home for 20 years prior to 9/11. He took it down every evening, lest it get dirty overnight. He chokes up upon hearing the opening chords of â€œThe Star-Spangled Bannerâ€, and this past weekend, he celebrated Johnny Cashâ€™s birthday. So what is it about us, Peter King, that is getting your all-American Fruit of the Looms in a bunch?
It wasnâ€™t enough that I have had to prove my â€œAmerican-nessâ€ at every step of my career. It wasnâ€™t enough that I was asked whether my father taught me how to make bombs in our garage, or that I was told that I would be relegated to the seventh circle of hell because of my faith, during my medical school interviews. Please, let me know exactly what I need to do to escape the clutch of your pseudo-patriotric scrutiny and prove to you that my neighbours do not have to fear for their lives. If you were to search my home, the only flammables you would find are hair products. The only thing my family is radical about is keeping up with â€œGleeâ€. Is this assimilation enough?
The wheels are already in motion for your political circus, apologist clowns in tow. It is clear that your goal is simply to disseminate your smear campaign and to both capitalise on and stoke unfounded fears by further stigmatising a demographic already struggling with a typecast.
So, if you are asking who I am, Mr King, allow me to answer. I am American. I am Muslim. I am a doctor. I am a daughter. I am a sister.
To speak your language, I am a â€œhard-working, God-fearing, taxpaying patriotâ€. I am a woman who, right about now, is wondering whether I need to pack for an internment camp. I know who I am. I am comfortable with all those labels; it is you who is not.
This much I know is true: you need me. You need a villain to demonise with your lofty rhetoric. It allows you to keep up your wily pretence of protecting America from the grip of Islamo-Commie terrorists.
Radical Islam is, indeed, a threat mostly to us Muslims, but it will not be conquered by your humiliating McCarthy-esque public defamations.
It must come from within, and as is evidenced by the extraordinary events in the Middle East, we are capable of internal reformation, and marvellous, peaceful ones at that. If you are trying to paint Muslims as inherently violent, your timing, quite frankly, sir, is embarrassing.
Well, Mr King, maybe we can work out a deal. If I agree to pander to your jingoistic Muslim trials and profess my eternal devotion to America, will you agree to make the American dream accessible to me? If I prove, once and for all, that I adore this country, that my loyalty lies here, and nowhere else, will you guarantee that I will never be asked another racist question at a job interview? That a patient will never again reject me as his or her doctor because of my faith? That I will not be spat on, or that a waitress will never again refuse to serve me?
Let us call this what it is: bigotry draped in the American flag nothing more than a fear-mongering attempt, drenched in political theatrics, laced with reactionary hatred, and deceptively packaged in an incredulous label of national security. Same as it ever was.
Americaâ€™s tragedy is no longer that fateful day in September of 2001.
Our catastrophe is what we have become. As a patriotic American, politicians such as yourself, who manipulate the American public and perpetuate ignorance and intolerance break my heart. The biggest threat to this nation is not radical Islam; it is you, hurling the malignancy of prejudice even deeper into the recesses of the American psyche, for your own gratuitous political gain. A country that is in dire need of aggressive resuscitation by its lawmakers, instead, has you thrusting panic further into the American conscience.
Since we all know, from the lessons of Senator McCarthy, how this will end, let me spare you the suspense:
If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good Youâ€™ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Joseph N Welch, special counsel for the Army, 9 June 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings
The Guardian (UK)