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The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson The Rev. Dr. Peter L. Samuelson

The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Religious Profiling

March 08, 2011

I have never been racially profiled, but I have talked to many people who have.  In my last parish there were many professional African-Americans who had been convicted of "driving while black"  - that is - they were stopped by police while driving their nice, late-model cars through white neighborhoods.  It was a humiliating experience and a real injustice. They were racially profiled, stopped under the assumption that no black person would 1) be able to afford a nice, late-model car and 2) a black person in a white neighborhood must be up to no good.  Although these incidences of racial profiling reflect real attitudes held by some Americans, at least Congress never deigned to set up a congressional hearing investigating the racist question of why black people are prone to steal cars.  Yet this is  the equivalent of what is happening in Congress this Thursday as Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, holds hearings on the threat of homegrown terrorism from the Muslim community in America.  It is not racial profiling, but religious profiling that motivates these hearings.

Besides the injustice inherent in these hearings, they are also dangerous to the goals of homeland security.  Terrorism is a method, not an ideology, and can be practiced by extremist of any stripe.  Some have made the case that Timothy McVeigh was influenced by the Christian Identity movement  and at the very least this movement has inspired violent acts of resistance in our society.  Religion is not the exclusive inspiration for terrorism either.  Many terrorist are atheist.  To look only in the Muslim American community for terrorism is to view the homeland security landscape with blinders on.  Besides, the damage to the trust of the Muslim American community is a real threat to our homeland security.   A study from Duke University and the University of North Carolina found that  the American Muslim community has been the single largest source of tips that have brought terror suspects to the attention of authorities. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  We might also add that injustice anywhere is a threat to our security everywhere.   There can be no peace without justice.  Singling out the Muslim community in these hearings does not make us more secure, but less so.  It drives us into isolation and disrupts the "inescapable network of mutuality" and rends that "single garment of destiny"  that, as Dr. King witnessed, is so essential to a peaceable commonwealth.


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