“Regrettably, while nearly a decade has passed since 9/11, we continue to see a steady stream of violence and discrimination targeting Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South-Asian communities. In each city and town where I have met with leaders of these communities, I have been struck by the sense of fear that pervades their lives – fear of violence, of bigotry and hate. The headwind of intolerance manifests itself in many different ways.”
— an excerpt of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez’s statement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Read the full text on the US Department of Justice website.
The Senate hearing on the defense of civil rights of Muslims in America (in which Perez testified) took place yesterday:
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he convened Tuesday’s hearing because of rising Islamophobia, manifested by Quran burnings, hate speech and restrictions on mosque construction.
Coincidentally (or not), Durbin’s hearing followed US Representative Peter King’s (R-NY.) controversial hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims that took place on March 10:
The hearing came after a series of high-profile incidents linked to American Muslims, including a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009 and an attempted bombing in Times Square last year. And it came at a time when conservatives have been bolder about attacks on Islam and Muslims generally – not just the religion’s extremists.
In this environment, King’s committee set out to study “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
While the focus of both of these hearings has been on American Muslims (in Durbin’s case, protecting their civil rights, and in King’s case, “investigating” the extent to which American Muslims have been complicit in the radicalization of their community), the impact of this debate goes beyond Muslims alone, as Perez testified yesterday. Sikh Americans – who even today are often confused for Muslims – have faced their share of the brunt of Islamophobic discrimination since 9/11.
The Sikh American Legal Defense Fund (SALDEF) was invited to provide written testimony to Durbin’s hearing yesterday:
As Sikhs, it is our duty to unwaveringly stand for the rights of all. Reflecting on the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji demands that our community defend the civil and human rights of everyone, ensuring that no one community is unfairly targeted. Furthermore, the hostile environment being created for Muslim Americans contributes to many of the problems Sikh Americans are currently facing, such as school bullying and harassment, employment discrimination, and hate crimes. We believe in the importance of standing in solidarity with our fellow Americans, as well as ensuring the issues of the Sikh American community are heard by our nation’s lawmakers.
We most not foster an environment in which innocent people are openly condemned because of a fear of religious radicalization. Radicalization in the form of patriotic extremism is not the solution to preventing terrorism in this country.