By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When Rep. Peter King of New York called a hearing called “Radicalization in the American Muslim Community,” it brought into focus the dramatic and polarized emotions many Americans have towards Muslims.
Forty percent of Americans say they believe Islam promotes violence more than other religions, according to a Gallup Poll. So, does America have a racist attitude towards Islam?
“This is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating,” testified Rep. Keith Ellison (D – Minn.), one of two Muslims elected to Congress.
However, King’s hearing into radical Muslims isn’t the first on Capitol Hill. It’s the 15th on homegrown extremists since 2006, and almost all of them focused on Islam.
“This is not the American way. This is rank prejudice,” said Dr. William Beeman, a University of Minnesota anthropologist, who has extensively studied the Middle East and Islam. “We’re more or less obsessing about the events of 9-11 which was a decade ago.”
Indeed, when I previewed this story on my Facebook page, one person wrote: “Muslims are a bunch of freakin’ wackos, even the ones who aren’t violent.” Another wrote: “These people are absolutely maniacal.”
“The Westboro Church in Kansas. are they radical Christians or just radicals? How about radical Jews? Are they radical people or are they radical Jews?” asked Beeman.
Still, in light of the hearings, again, local Muslims are defending themselves, and their religion.
“I think they’ve been targeting us and it’s unfair,” said Lori Saroya in Minneapolis. “These attacks have nothing to do with Muslims and Islam,” she added.
There are many types of extremists inflicting terror in the U.S. Tim McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, but he never appeared to have religious motivations, although he was raised Catholic. Jared Loughner is accused of going on a shooting spree at public appearance by an Arizona Congresswoman, but he was also not motivated by religion.
Beeman said that perhaps a religious parallel could be drawn with the attacks on abortion clinics.
“It’s controversial to bring this up, but there are many, many people who attacked abortion clinics, and killed abortion doctors, and, again, we don’t call them Catholic terrorists,” said Beeman..
“The motivations are clearly religious, yet we don’t condemn the entire Catholic Church for the actions of a few,” he said.
So, what is it about Islam that has people taking the actions of a small group of extremists and generalizing it to the whole religion? Beeman and others say that the United States needs an enemy.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Middle East and Islam emerged as that enemy.
“It’s virtually exactly parallel to the McCarthy hearings. It’s about fear, and radicalizing the American public against a group,” said Beeman.