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Newsday: King, Durbin trade jabs over Muslim rights

March 30, 2011

WASHINGTON — In a surprisingly strong exchange, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) traded sharp jabs over the first congressional hearing on Muslim civil rights held Tuesday.

King, who flatly denied that American Muslims face violations of their civil rights, said the hearing Durbin chaired "just perpetuates the myth that somehow Muslims are the victims of September 11."

Durbin, who rejected those contentions, complained about "harsh" rhetoric by King and others, and said, "Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination."

Durbin held the Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Muslim civil rights just weeks after King chaired a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on radicalization of the American Muslim community — which drew much criticism for singling out Muslims.

On "Fox and Friends" Tuesday, King questioned the need for Durbin's hearing.

"I mean, the fact is there is no systematic or intended violation of any rights of Muslims in the country," he said. "There were nine times as many anti-Semitic incidents every year as there are anti-Muslim."

He was referring to the FBI's 2009 statistics on religious hate crimes: 71.9 percent against Jews, 8.4 percent against Muslims and 6.4 percent against Christians.

Durbin sought to rebut King by citing President George W. Bush's strong stand against anti-Muslim backlash after 9/11.

Testifying that discrimination against Muslims should end were former Bush official Alex Acosta and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C.

Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said Muslims are less than 1 percent of U.S. population but 14 percent of Justice Department cases of bias against religious institutions and 25 percent of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission religious bias cases.

"Regrettably, while nearly a decade has passed since 9/11, we continue to see a steady stream of violence and discrimination targeting Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities," Perez said.

Farhana Khera, executive director of the nonprofit Muslim Advocates, noted "rising anti-Muslim bigotry." She recalled the stabbing of a cabdriver for being Muslim and the beating of a Muslim child by classmates.

"One case is too many," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

But he sided with King on holding U.S. Muslims responsible for stopping terrorist radicalization of their young men. "I will stand with you to practice your faith and be an integral part of this country," he said. "But you're going to have to help your country."