Senator Dick Durbin has announced that he, too, is now planning hearings on American Muslims. Unlike Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), however, Durbin wants his Senate judiciary committee hearing to focus on protecting the civil rights of American Muslims, rather than on the alleged “radicalization” of the community as a whole.
Durbin said the hearing is necessary following an increase in anti-Muslim bigorty in the United States, including “[Koran]burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination.”
While Durbin aides deny that the hearing is in reponse to Rep. Peter King’s (R-N.Y.) investigation into “radicalization” within the American Muslim community, the contrast between the two is hard to miss.
Unfortunately, this idea is flawed in ways similar to King’s hearings. While lacking the neo-McCarthyist premise of King’s approach, Durbin’s hearings are still too broad to be of any use. Instead of holding hearings broadly premised on “Muslims’ civil rights,” Durbin should hold hearings dealing with specific civil rights complaints from the Muslim community.
Last time I offered three possible hearings on domestic radicalization that King might have held that could have been focused on specific issues. I’ll do the same in Durbin’s case.
FBI Stings. The FBI has used sting operations to great effectiveness, but some Muslim organizations have questioned whether or not the stings amount to entrapment in moral if not in strictly legal terms. Since Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly defended the operations against allegations of entrapment, the legal basis for them is an issue that Durbin might consider addressing.
Mosque Surveillance. Another frequent concern expressed by Muslim leaders is the concern that mosques and other Muslim religious spaces are being surveilled by the government, even without any real accusations of wrongdoing, and that the FBI’s investigative guidelines allow for religious profiling. Last week the Brennan Center held a symposium in which former FBI counterterrorism official Phil Mudd defended the FBI’s domestic intelligence gathering as part of their mandate to prevent attacks before they happen. Hearings could offer some insight on how to reconcile national security concerns with respect for individual rights.
Sharia bans/RLUIPA. Republican lawmakers in states across the country are rushing to institute bans on the use of Muslim or religious law in American courts, despite the fact that America has a long history of allowing religious groups to resolve matters of civil arbitration according to their beliefs. Along side another disturbing trend, the increasing use of using local zoning laws to prevent the construction of mosques and Islamic community centers, this should be another area of interest for members of Congress concerned about Muslims’ civil rights. Durbin mentioned this, but to address the issue beyond a superficial acknowledgement of “yes, Muslims face bigotry,” it really requires its own hearing.
Conservatives who supported King’s hearings on the premise that the entire American Muslim community is somehow collectively responsible for the 0.007 to 0.006 percent of American Muslims who have committed terrorist acts don’t have cause to complain about the political symbolism of Durbin’s hearing. But because of its breadth, Durbin’s well-meaning gesture isn’t likely to be of much practical use either.