US Catholic Faith in Real Life

House's actions speak louder than President's words on immigration and Islam

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint |

In his State of the Union, stressing the theme of national unity above party loyalty, so that America could go forward to “win the future,” President Barack Obama gave a round-about appeal to Congress for the DREAM Act and for comprehensive immigration reform. (I noticed that Sen. John McCain applauded.)

Now whether that’s going to get very far is to be doubted, since the very next day Republican members of the House Immigration Committee argued for bring back factory raids. Any initiative on immigration reform is expected to come from the Senate. The House, if anything, would rather stiffen immigration law and build bigger fences.

Among the first things the House will be look into is Islamic radicalism and it ties to terror. Toward the end of February, Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, will have his Committee on Homeland Security conduct hearings into the role Islamic centers and imams play in fostering terrorism. While not directly touching on immigration, many of the subjects of the investigation will be immigrants.

King has complained that Muslim clergy will not cooperate with law enforcement to prevent the spread of radical, anti-American ideas or to stop youths from going abroad the fight jihad. When interviewed by National Public Radio after the State of the Union, he agreed with President Obama that Muslims are “part of the American family” and are good law-abiding citizens. Yet he painted their mosques and imams (clergy) as radical and dangerous.

The hearings have caused consternation among Muslims, since the experts on Islamic radicalism chosen to testify, while of Islamic background, have led assaults on the religion. Zuhdi Jasser, a U.S.-born of Syrian-American, founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy to fight what he calls “political Islamism,” which he links to terrorism. A devout Muslim, he nonetheless has opposed even such moderate projects as the Muslim center near Ground Zero.

More agressive is Ayaan Hirsi, a Somali-born former member of the Dutch parliament, now attached to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. A feminist, she deplores the role of women in Islam. In the Netherlands, her campaign grew so heated that death threats drove her from the country. She is ambiguous about being a Muslim, at times describing herself as an atheist. Such witnesses unnerve Muslim moderates.

Peter King is an interesting inquisitor of Muslims. In 1990s, he was something of champion of Balkan Muslims. He pushed for their protection in Bosnia and for the resettlement of refugees. His relations with Muslims in his own district were warm and supportive. They reciprocated with funds and votes.

Then came 9/11 and his attitude changed. Apparently, he lost personal friends at the Trade Towers. When some Muslims respond in disbelief that Muslims were responsible and spoke of an anti-Islam conspiracy to discredit their religion, the representative was offended. When the truth became evident, attempts to reconcile and apologize were rebuffed. Relations between the congressman and Muslims on the Island are frigid. Now their concerns have drive Muslims nationally to organize a response to what they believe will be negative and unfair hearings.

Rep. King, in responding to NPR, seems to be arguing much like the 19th century nativists in regard to the Irish Catholics: If it weren’t for their priests, the Irish would be fine Americans. It was also thought that the Irish were storing guns in church basements to rise up when the pope, who was kick out of the Papal States in 1870, arrived in New York.

The hearings are going ahead, notwithstanding the appeals for softer language and unity. It’s hoped that the voice of moderation—Muslim and non-Muslim—will be heard during these hearings.