Our nation’s politicians are called to represent and uphold the highest American ideals, particularly those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. However, in light of Rep. Peter King and Rep. Allen West’s most recent comments, it appears that at least two of our elected officials are perpetuating anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., which fundamentally contradicts the values that we as a nation place on freedom of religion and diversity.
In the near future, Rep. King plans to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of the American-Muslim community. In a country that promotes freedom of religion and equality before the law, Rep. King has chosen to target certain Americans based on their faith and unfounded generalizations on terrorism. This action undermines our American ideals, unnecessarily divides the nation along religious lines, and does not appear to be at all solution-oriented. A 51-member coalition including Interfaith Alliance and a number of Muslim, civil rights, and national security groups sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressing in detail our belief that the hearings will strain relations with the American Muslim community and could potentially undermine our national security. In response to these concerns, Rep. King stated, “I don’t believe it warrants an answer. I am too busy preparing for the hearings.” This response reflects a disturbing lack of understanding of the implications of these hearings.
Unfortunately, Rep. King’s actions are just the most recent example of rising Islamophobia in the U.S. During Rep. West’s campaign, he remarked that Islam was a “very vile and very vicious enemy” and that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion.” Both statements reflect a complete misunderstanding of Islam and intolerance toward American Muslims. Furthermore, two minutes into an interview on the Shalom Show, Rep. West criticized Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, saying that he is “the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.”
In response to Rep. West’s disturbing comments, Interfaith Alliance President and State of Belief Host Rev. Welton Gaddy, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Director Rabbi David Saperstein, Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty Executive Director Rev. Brent Walker, and Rabbinical Assembly Director for Public Policy Rabbi Jack Moline wrote Rep. West with their concerns last week and asked for an apology. As they stated in the letter: “Your remarks disrespect not only your Muslim colleagues in the Congress, but also all of your constituents of the Muslim faith. This is neither appropriate, nor true to the American values that you reference.” Rep. West’s response leaves much to be desired. He did not offer an apology to Rep. Ellison or the countless Muslims in his district but did say “I am neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Islam. I respect every religion, and the Constitutionally-protected right to practice that faith in a peaceful manner.” I hope the views on Islam that Rep. West conveyed in his letter are genuine and that his future public statements are more in line with this message than they have been thus far.