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Ann McFeatters: Muslims get mixed message in America

When Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., broke down in tears, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., had the grace to look chagrined briefly. Another legislator said in disgust, ěThis (hearing) is an outrage.î
Kingís badly timed congressional hearing on radicalization in the American Muslim community combined with President Barack Obamaís hand wringing on what to do about Libyaís leader waging war on his people and the recognition that Guantanamo prison will not be closed have shown how clueless we are.
Nearly a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, we in America still donít understand that while there are radicalized Muslims who want to destroy the United States, hundreds of millions of people around the world believe passionately in the Islam religion and donít hate us. But they are growing increasingly confused about what our policies are.
King convened his controversial hearing as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee to probe the extent of terrorist intent among Muslims in America. Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to Congress, said the hearing was the height of stereotyping and scapegoating. Others charged that the hearing was a portrait in bigotry in a country founded on freedom of religion.
Ellison tearfully recalled a boyhood friend, also a Muslim, who was killed at the World Trade Center while trying to rescue victims of the attacks of 9/11. Solely because of his religion, some tried to vilify him, suggesting he might have been involved.
Democrats on the committee complained there was no factual basis for Kingís hearing and that it will only stir antagonism against Americaís 3 million Muslims. Some recalled the governmentís cruel internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The problem with King, who, by the way, supported the Irish Republican Army when the United States deemed it a terrorist organization, which killed innocent people, is that his hearing had no point. What does he want to happen? Monitor what goes on in mosques? Tear down mosques? Imprison young Muslim American men? Stoke fear of Muslim Americans? Have neighbors spying on each other?
With the help and warnings of Muslim Americans, law enforcement officials have prevented at least 43 home-grown terror plots from succeeding. The FBI keeps tabs on domestic suspects. We need to keep out foreign terrorists rather than devoting scarce resources on surveillance of our citizensí religiosity.
And, by the way, why hasnít there been a more aggressive effort to address the brainwashing of young American children who join gangs and ravage their communities and get into drugs? Isnít that a much wider problem in society?
This all comes just as the White House is trying to figure out what to do about Libya. Obama said flatly that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi must relinquish power but is considered an international criminal, meaning he has no alternative but to fight. Yet, Obama also doesnít want to send planes to bomb Gadhafiís airfields, which are being used to bomb his own people.
It is understandable that the United States, involved in two wars in the Middle East that it shouldnít have started, does not want another military engagement, let alone, heaven forbid, boots on the ground. But sending medical supplies and weapons to the Libyan rebels and sending planes to bomb Libyan fighter planes (short of a full no-fly zone) have now become a moral obligation.
At the same time we are trying to convince the world we are not at war with Islam, Obama has conceded that closing Guantanamo (sending its inmates elsewhere) will not happen any time soon despite his promise to shut it down. Because hundreds of Muslims were held there without legal charges or a day in court, Guantanamo symbolizes the point where Americaís ideals fall to pragmatism.
In June 2009 Obama gave a well-received speech in Cairo titled ěA New Beginningî to tell the world we are not and never will be at war with the Islam religion. Now, many are wondering.

Ann McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.

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