There were good reasons to be skeptical of the reasons behind Senator Dick Durbin’s decision to hold hearings today that were supposedly intended to reinforce our right to freedom of religion. The proceedings were clearly intended as an answer to the House hearings conducted by Representative Peter King about the threat from Muslim extremism. The idea that there was something illegitimate about a probe that sought to examine the ideological foundations of the largest source of international and domestic terrorism was absurd. For as much as all Congressional hearings tend to be excuses for politicians to grandstand and rarely lead to anything productive, this was surely a topic that deserved attention.
But, as many of us feared, the rationale behind the criticism of King was not to do with his threatening anyone’s right of free expression or religion. He did nothing of the kind. Rather, it was that focusing on the real threat from Islamists and their fellow travelers distracts attention from another narrative that radical groups purporting to represent American Muslims have gone all out to sell to Americans: the myth that there has been a post 9/11 backlash against followers of Islam.
As I wrote in COMMENTARY last fall, the notion that Muslims have been subjected to a backlash of discrimination or violence since 9/11 is made of whole cloth. No such backlash took place. Thus it was discouraging to hear Durbin in his opening statement at his hearing speaking of this as if it were an unquestioned reality. Rather than being, Durbin quoted Attorney General Eric Holder as saying, “the civil rights issue of our time,” it is a big lie and perhaps one of the greatest urban legends.
One of the most troubling aspects of the way this lie has been propagated is the willingness of politicians like Durbin to engage with radical groups who seek to distract America’s attention from genuine threats to our security. As Steven Emerson writes today on the website of his Investigative Project on Terrorism, Durbin has recently embraced the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization founded as a front group for supporters of the Hamas terrorist group. One of the witnesses he called, Farhana Khera, like CAIR, touts herself as a civil rights advocate, but her work has been focused on hampering FBI investigations of terror suspects in much the same way CAIR attempts to do.
The problem here is not just that Durbin is wrong about this mythical backlash but that he is providing a forum for groups that have used that myth for their own purposes. CAIR and other groups don’t want just to change the post-9/11 narrative from one of the effort to counter the threat from Islamism to a false tale of downtrodden Muslims suffering discrimination. Their goal is to hamper the FBI and to make it so fearful of charges of anti-Muslim bias as to make investigations of the radicalism fueling terror in some mosques impossible. If, with Durbin’s help, they succeed in this effort, the price America may pay for this false narrative will be heavy indeed.