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The American Debate: GOP's Muslim stand isn't helping the country or the party

It's well-established that the Republicans are broadly unpopular with all kinds of minorities - blacks, Jews, gays, Latinos, Asians. Not content to rest on its laurels, however, the white people's party is now working assiduously to alienate yet another minority group: Muslim Americans.

It's well-established that the Republicans are broadly unpopular with all kinds of minorities - blacks, Jews, gays, Latinos, Asians. Not content to rest on its laurels, however, the white people's party is now working assiduously to alienate yet another minority group: Muslim Americans.

Those voters, who are heavily concentrated in swing states such as Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, had long been trending Democratic anyway, thanks to the conservatives' post-9/11 scapegoating rhetoric. But the new House Republican hearings on the "radicalization in the American Muslim community" - and the implicit message that the rest of us should Be Very Afraid - will likely put the kibosh on the GOP outreach efforts that George W. Bush successfully pioneered a scant decade ago.

These hearings, launched Thursday by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R., N.Y.), are essentially a blanket libel against an entire religion and ethnicity, a libel rendered more pernicious by King's blatant distortions of fact. It's bad enough that his counterterrorism credentials are so weak, given his stalwart support for the Irish Republican Army (more on that later); what's far worse is that, by singling out Muslim Americans, he'll sow hostility in the community and make it easier for al-Qaeda recruiters to sell the argument that the West is waging a war on Islam.

To chart the GOP's swift descent into demonization, let's begin with what President Bush said just six days after 9/11: "America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. . . . They love America just as much as I do." But here is King in 2004, speaking to Sean Hannity: "You could say that 80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists" - a claim he has since reiterated.

You can claim it, but that doesn't make it true. In 2008, ethnicity experts at Tufts University and the University of Washington created the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey - the most ambitious poll ever conducted in the community - and found that its eight million denizens were "middle class, assimilating quickly, and highly supportive of the American political system." The mosques are key to the assimilation process; 95 percent of regular mosque attendants say they believe Islam is compatible with U.S. political values. As the researchers put it, "The more religious American Muslims happen to be, the more they participate in American politics."

King also faults Muslim Americans for purportedly refusing to help the feds fight terrorism; in his words, "There are people in the community who are not fully cooperating." But again, he's painting with an overly broad brush. A new report by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a venture affiliated with Duke University and the University of North Carolina, says that roughly 120 early-stage terrorist plots involving Muslim American suspects were thwarted last year - 48 courtesy of "tips from the Muslim-American community."

The irony here, of course, is that if the Republicans keep targeting the community as an alien force, people in the community may feel less inclined to cooperate.

Muslim American plotters do exist, of course, but let's put that fact in perspective. As Triangle report director David Schanzer has pointed out, "There aren't very many Islamic terrorists, and most of them are incompetent. . . . These crimes are perpetrated by a handful of people whose actions are denounced and rejected by virtually all Muslims living in the United States."

Obviously, a "handful" is still too many, but consider this official statistic: During the post-9/11 decade, 11 domestic Muslims have killed 33 people in terrorist attacks on the home soil. That works out to nearly 3.5 deaths per year. By contrast, domestic terrorist Jared Lee Loughner, armed with his ease-of-purchase Glock, is charged with triggering six deaths in one morning, and fellow white guys Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kaczynski have also wreaked domestic havoc - yet the Republicans aren't demanding any hearings on antigovernment radicalization trends within the Caucasian American community.

Or consider the case of Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and the '96 Atlantic Olympics, and later killed a cop while on the lam from the FBI. Rudolph was affiliated with an extremist Christian group, and he famously quoted the Bible to justify his clinic bombings - yet the Republicans never called for hearings to examine whether white Christian churches were breeding domestic terrorists.

The hypocrisy is most obvious when we examine Congressman King's past loyalties to the IRA. On a number of occasions after the IRA bombed British facilities and killed innocent people, our counterterrorism chairman seemed fine with that. In 1982, he extolled the IRA as "brave men and women." In 1985, he said: "If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it." A few years ago, he dismissed an IRA murder as a mere "pub dispute" and said, "We shouldn't rush to be too sanctimonious." He'd surely be furious if British lawmakers held hearings that targeted "radicalization in the Northern Ireland Catholic community."

And while King carves out an exception for the IRA, the GOP stays true to its own DNA. These hearings predictably stigmatize an entire minority community, paint its members as The Other, and further stoke anti-Muslim hostility among those who think that mosques are hotbeds for terrorism and that any "radical" thought is a coded call to action.

The Republicans can't help behaving this way, even when it ill serves their political interests. In the 2000 presidential election, 70 percent of Muslim Americans voted Republican. In 2004, the percentage was 30. In 2008, the percentage was 11. Care to guess what percentage of Muslim Americans now call themselves Republican? Eight. Apparently they don't like to be demonized. If the GOP intends to punt those voters forever, it need only permit Peter King to roam free.