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Congress: Stop Targeting American Muslims and Protect Muslim Service Members

Dena Sher,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Devon Chaffee,
Legislative Policy Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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December 7, 2011

Today the Senate and House Homeland Security Committees will hold a hearing on “Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities Inside the United States.” In their announcement of the hearing, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) once again singled out Islam and American Muslim communities as the focus of their terrorism inquiry to the detriment of U.S. counterterrorism efforts and of American Muslims serving their country.

Rep. King and Sen. Lieberman continue to target a single religious community even though empirical studies show that violent threats cannot be identified by any religious, ideological, ethnic or racial profile. Moreover, by singling out Muslims and Islam, they do a disservice to American Muslims serving our country and threaten to spread distrust amongst our troops. American Muslim service members already report how they are unfairly subjected to derogatory and racist terms in the course of their service, such as “towel head,” “raghead,” “camel jockey,” or “Haji,” as well as to other forms of discrimination.

We should also be mindful that American Muslim service members aren’t the only ones who will be negatively impacted by today’s hearing’s problematic framing of the terrorist threat. The ACLU submitted a statement for the hearing recognizing:

By singling out Islam and Muslim Americans in its reports and hearings on the terror threat, Congress increases the likelihood that U.S. law enforcement officials will misunderstand the scientific evidence surrounding risk factors for violence and focus their investigative efforts on innocent Americans because of their beliefs rather than on true threats to the community.

The ACLU recently obtained numerous documents revealing how U.S. government has sponsored counterterrorism trainings that falsely and inappropriately portray Arab and Muslim communities as monolithic, alien, backward, violent and supporters of terrorism. Such anti-Muslim bias can be found in U.S. government intelligence products as well as training materials, and the ACLU has called for the official withdrawal of all such biased documents.

Today is the 70th anniversary of attacks against Pearl Harbor. Congress should be especially mindful of the lessons our country learned about the high costs of unjustly targeting entire communities in the name of security from the targeting of Japanese American civilians during World War II. As the National Executive Director of the Japanese American Civilians League, Floyd Mori, noted in his hearing submission: “By focusing exclusively on one group—Muslims—as the source for homegrown terrorism … we harm the American values of equality, diversity, and religious freedom.”

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