Chertoff & Senate Committee Discuss Positive Role of Muslim Americans


(Washington, DC - 3/16/07)—The Muslim Public Affairs Council today commended the Department of Homeland Security for offering testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, in which officials discussed the positive role of Muslim American communities. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Daniel Sutherland, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, stressed the need for enhanced engagement between the government and American Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian communities as a key toward improved security.

SEE: “U.S. Officials Want More Outreach to American Arabs, Muslims” (Los Angeles Times, 3/15/07)


Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) presided over the hearing Wednesday, which was entitled “The Threat of Islamic Radicalism to the Homeland.”

“This hearing is an excellent beginning in the way that government agencies should foster dialogue with Muslim communities, even though the title of hearing did not suggest that the discussion in the hearing would be constructive and nuanced,” said MPAC Executive Director, Salam Al-Marayati, who attended the hearing yesterday. “The best ways for the US government to counter radicalization are to promote the integration of American Muslims into American pluralism and to offer opportunities for civic engagement”.

Secretary Chertoff began his testimony by making the point that while extremism and radicalization is a large concern among European Muslim communities, this is not a phenomenon that we are observing in the United States. He explained that the American Muslim community is a strength for the United States:

“Although much of my discussion will deal with violent Islamic extremists, I want to emphasize that those who support the use of violence to achieve their goals represent a small, fringe element within the American Muslim community.  It is critical that we recognize that American Muslims have been, and will continue to be, a highly valued part of the fabric of our Nation.  American Muslims have been outspoken in their opposition to terrorist violence and have been strong contributors to our country for many generations.” 
In fact, Secretary Chertoff on more than one occassion was specific in distinguishing a violent extremist ideology that is the treat to the homeland and the religion of Islam.

In further testimony, Dan Sutherland stated the goal of the Department is to “develop, cultivate, and maintain partnerships with key leaders of the American Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian communities” and encouraged the dialogue that is already underway through various educational and community initiatives.

Senator Lieberman stated that the goals of the hearing were to detect, deter and defeat the threat of extremism within the homeland, adding that he wanted to reassure the Muslim American community that the war against extremism is not a war with Islam. Senator Collins stated that the American government must build a level of confidence and trust with the American Muslim community. She also stated that it is a priority of the committee to make the hearts and minds of our Muslim neighbors a priority and that the government should work to ensure that faithful Muslims are allies in this process.

Several Senators, particularly Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) of Missouri, asked Secretary Chertoff to speak out against anti-Muslim hate speech are spouted from talk shows.  Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas also showed concern and compassion to American Muslims by stating that they are treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. and wants to see an amelioration of this problem.  Senator Jon Testor of Montana offered the scenario that war against Iran would increase radicalization.  MPAC thanks these Senators and the full committee for initiating a very important discussion and awaits the Muslim voice to be injected in this discourse.