Tomorrow's Congressional hearing on the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is likely to be remembered as a key moment defining racial and ethnic relations in the United States in the post-9/11 era. New York's Rep. Peter King, the Republican chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has defended the hearing as "absolutely essential;" American Muslims, along with other immigrant groups and civil rights advocates, have condemned it as government-sanctioned xenophobia.
At the heart of the conversation are American Muslims, perhaps the nation's least-understood minority. Here are a few details about a segment of the U.S. population that numbers more than 2 million:
A Pew Research Center study from 2007 identified American Muslims as "mostly middle class and mainstream." While predominantly immigrants, the study found them to be generally more integrated into American society and culture and more affluent than their immigrant counterparts in Europe.
Photo by sadaqah/Flickr (Creative Commons)
The Islamic Center of Irvine, a mosque allegedly targeted by the FBI informant
A federal lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges that a former FBI informant, an ex-fitness instructor and ex-convict named Craig Monteilh, violated Muslims' freedom of religion when he spied on Orange County mosques for the FBI between 2006 and 2007.
Monteilh posed as a new convert to Islam, the lawsuit alleges, recording conversations and meetings with a device hidden in his key ring and a camera embedded in a shirt button.
What did some of these conversations entail? According to the complaint, the informant pressed people on the topic of "violent jihad," scaring some at the Islamic Center of Irvine to the point of calling the cops:
Agents Allen and Armstrong had instructed Monteilh to ask general questions about jihad from the beginning of the operation. In early 2007, they instructed him to start asking more pointedly about jihad and armed conflict, then to more openly suggest his own willingness to engage in violence.
Pursuant to these instructions, in one-on-one conversations, Monteilh began asking people about violent jihad, expressing frustration over the oppression of Muslims around the world, pressing them for their views, and implying that he might be willing or able to take action.
In about May 2007, on instructions from his handlers, Monteilh told a number of individuals that he believed it was his duty as a Muslim to take violent actions, and that he had access to weapons.
Many members of the Muslim community at ICOI then reported these statements to community leaders, including Hussam Ayloush. Ayloush both called the FBI to report the statements and instructed the individuals who had heard the statements to report them to the Irvine Police Department, which they did.
One of the biggest immigration-related stories of the year, one that I regret not having squeezed into my top-five list, also involved culture, religion, and a substantial dose of fear.
Nearly ten years after the World Trade Center attacks, a nationwide rise in anti-Muslim sentiment manifested itself everywhere from Ground Zero in New York City to Temecula, and many points in between. Citizens mounted protests against planned mosques from coast to coast, arsonists set fire to a mosque construction site in Tennessee, a Florida preacher threatened to burn copies of the Quran, and the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma's electorate voted to ban Sharia law from the courts, even if Islamic law had never been cited in one of the state's courtrooms.
The experience has left many Muslim Americans reeling. In the recent Bloggingheads exchange above, Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy describes the feeling she got seeing some of the news reports: "It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a monster in place of yourself."
Photo by Il Primo Uomo/Flickr (Creative Commons)
A temporary restraining order will continue in effect until the end of this month blocking a controversial new Oklahoma law that, if implemented, would amend the state's constitution to ban the use of Islamic Sharia law in the state's courts. United Press International reported that in a hearing today, a federal judge in Oklahoma City extended an order blocking implementation of what was known on the ballot as State Question 755, approved by voters in the Nov. 2 election.
The ballot initiative was approved by an overwhelming majority - 70 percent - even though there is no known instance of Islamic law ever being cited in Oklahoma courts.
Two days after the ballot measure was approved, the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed suit to stop its implementation on constitutional grounds. Today the restraining order was extended until Nov. 29, when a ruling is expected on whether the law violates the U.S. constitution.
Photo by Lotus_7/Flickr (Creative Commons)
The dome under construction at the La Luz Del Mundo church in Phoenix, October 2010
This latest story out of the Grand Canyon State involves not undocumented immigrants, but Christians erroneously believed to be Muslims.
KPHO, a Phoenix CBS affiliate, reports that "concerned neighbors" have been phoning leaders of the local La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) church over a new church building under construction that has a large dome, and which the concerned townsfolk have mistaken for an Islamic mosque. Church members have been forced to put up a banner on the dome, pointing out that it is a Christian house of worship they are building.
The story is yet another example of raging anti-Muslim fervor, the craze that is sweeping the nation, from Temecula (where residents have protested the building of an actual mosque) to New York City (no need to explain) to Oklahoma, where voters overwhelmingly approved a state initiative banning Islamic law, though there is no known instance of it ever having been cited in Oklahoma courts.