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How not to defuse anti-Muslim bigotry

Commentary’s Alana Goodman picks up one of the stranger moments of Senator Dick Durbin’s hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.” It came today when Senator Jon Kyl’s began questioning Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, about whether she would condemn death threats against other minorities – and Khera undertook the dance to which he have become accustomed. As Goodman puts it, she “seemed to try to filibuster out of answering the question.” Goodman quotes this exchange:

Kyl: I wonder if you’ve made any public pronouncement or statement condemning those religious leaders who’ve employed violent or hateful rhetoric or promoted hateful views of other’s religious groups. Have you done that or has your website done that?
Khera: Well let me, maybe by way of background, just clarify…
Kyl: As a former staffer you know that my time is very limited. I don’t have a lot for background. I have three quick questions here, have you done that?
Khera: Well let me just clarify, Sen. Kyl, my organization’s work is focused on protecting and upholding our constitutional values.
Kyl: So you haven’t condemned the hateful speech of those who have criticized others in the way that I mentioned then.
Khera: I guess I would have to know more specifically which particular case you’re talking about.
Kyl: Let me just ask you this. Would you today criticize threats of death or physical harm directed at writers or commentators who’ve criticized Islamic extremism? You would condemn that today, would you not?
Khera: I think we have, in our country, very cherished fidelity to the first amendment and that includes the freedom of speech -
Kyl: I’m not questioning whether people have the right to speak. The question is whether you would agree that that speech is helpful or hurtful, whether you would condemn it or be neutral about it.
Khera: Those who would threaten to kill somebody because of their political views, religious views – that’s inappropriate.

Goodman comments:

Inappropriate? For someone whose job is to combat religious discrimination, that seems like somewhat of an understatement. It contrasted with Khera’s passionate denunciation of discrimination against Muslims during her testimony, which she called “a growing menace to the safety and social fabric of our nation,” that is “so vile,” and “has real life and death consequences for Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans and their families.”

I think it’s fair to observe that “inappropriate” falls somewhat short of a condemnation. One can only wonder why.

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