Twenty-six Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sought to stem what they perceive as a rising tide of anti-Muslim discrimination last week when they submitted a resolution urging the federal government to take steps to “counter the growth in anti-Muslim sentiments, targeted rhetorical attacks, and violence against the Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian American communities.”
The resolution was a response to, among other things, a thwarted January attack on the Islamic Center of America in Michigan, where a California resident carrying explosives was arrested in the mosque parking lot. The controversial March congressional hearings on “homegrown radicalisation” of Muslims spearheaded by Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York, was another impetus to the resolution. (Calls to Congressman King’s office seeking comment on the resolution as a response to the March hearing he sponsored were not returned.)
In introducing the resolution last week, Congressman John Conyers and Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said in a statement that it is a “logical step toward sending the message that the American Muslim community should be able to enjoy the rights guaranteed under the Constitution to the same extent as all other Americans.”
The statement also said:
Ultimately, the American Muslim community should be able to rely on the federal government to lead the effort in fostering an open climate of understanding and cooperation. Only through a balanced examination of the challenges facing the nation will we establish a strong policy framework for protecting security, while respecting the Constitution and the interests of affected communities.
Corey Saylor, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that the resolution was welcome at a time when there has been “demonisation of the Muslim community by political figures. “It’s good for some members of Congress to step forward to say that targeting specific religious minorities is not one of our American values,” he told Firstpost.
The resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but according to legislative aides, there are no current plans to take up the issue. This means that the resolution could have little more than a symbolic effect.
“Regardless of whether this moves forward or not, it’s important,” argued Priya Murthy, policy director for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). “One crucial thing this resolution does is send a strong message from the Hill that a number of members of Congress don’t support statements and policies that say that people should be profiled.”
Murthy said the resolution was especially important since “we do have to grapple with the reality that individuals in office carry views and put out statements that are essentially saying it’s okay to single out or target community members based on the way they look, the dress they might wear, or the religion they might practice.”
Last year, for example, SAALT published a report on anti-Muslim and anti-South Asian statements uttered by US elected officials. (It noted that South Carolina state senator Jake Knotts called South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American, a “raghead,” though he later said he was joking.)
Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs?
But why does a resolution addressing anti-Muslim discrimination include Sikhs and all Americans of South Asian descent?
“The unfortunate reality is that people who are not Muslim but are perceived to be Muslim get targeted,” CAIR’s Saylor explained. “Tragically, after 9/11, the first two people who were attacked were Sikh men because they wore turbans. This is why it’s a major reason why other minority groups are being included in that resolution.”
In early May, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, for example, two men from Northern California assaulted an Indian-American store clerk and called him a “jihadist.”
Additionally, CAIR recently sent a letter to the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano calling for the agency to investigate its use of third-party trainers who may be relying on inaccurate information about Muslims and Islam.
The letter was submitted after the organisation learned that ethnic stereotypes played a role in a security drill at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where a person “who appeared to be Middle Eastern in descent or Indian/Pakistani” was specifically used to test screening procedures.