By Talat Hamdani
As a proud New Yorker and the mother of a first responder who lost his life on September 11, 2001, I am saddened to learn that Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is planning on holding congressional hearings on March 10 on the “radicalization of American Muslims.”
My son Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave 2,976 people who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, “He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore No. 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived, and he was called Sal by his friends… He became a research assistant at Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang in Handel’s Messiah in Queens. He saw all the Star Wars movies, and it was well known that his new Honda was the one with “Yung Jedi” license plates.”
Even though my son bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on that fateful day, after the tragedy there were still some people who smeared his character solely because of his Islamic faith. False rumors were spread that he was in league with the attackers and that he had secretly fled. It was only when his remains were identified that this ugliness finally came to a close.
By explicitly investigating Muslim Americans, the result of Representative King’s hearings, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will be to unjustly cast suspicion upon millions of good Americans. And the sad truth is that there are many who will follow the lead of these hearings and capitalize on the opportunity to act upon this prejudice. The implicit message of Rep. King’s hearings will be that you should be suspicious of your Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates – solely on the basis of their faith.
Rep. King initially premised these hearings on the false claim that the American Muslim community has failed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in our efforts to disrupt terrorism plots here in the United States. But that claim has been directly refuted by law enforcement professionals such as Los Angeles Sheriff County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose jurisdiction includes a large and diverse Muslim community. Baca who serves as a Chair of the Major City Chiefs Association has directly challenged King’s unsubstantiated claim, “If he has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward,” said Baca, “I don’t know what Mr. King is hearing or who he’s hearing it from.”
I have no problem with investigating criminal behavior or watching for patterns of action that indicate that criminal activity is underway, but it is altogether a different thing to divide Americans on the basis of their faith.
In the past, Rep. King has also claimed while providing no evidence whatsoever, that 85% of American mosques have “extremist leadership” and that American Muslims have shown “no moral outrage or condemnation” of terrorist acts. Mr. King seems to conveniently forget that the first person to report the foiled Times Square bomb plot was a Senegalese Muslim named Aloune Niass. He seems to have forgotten that the young man who plotted to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Oregon was turned in to the authorities by his own Muslim father. The fact of the matter is that like all Americans, American Muslims are committed to the safety of their families, their communities and their nation.
The United States Congress honored the legacy of my son when it wrote in Title I of the USA PATRIOT Act: “Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing.” If my son were alive today, he would be very concerned by the broad assault on American Muslims that these hearings represent.
As we near the 10th anniversary of the tragic September 11 attacks, I will be thinking of my son and the 2,976 other innocent souls who perished on that terrible day. As a nation, we should use this tenth anniversary of 9/11 to help move our nation towards a healing process. Sadly, these hearings will only divide our country at a time when Americans of all religions and races need to help bridge the divide and come together.
Hamdani is the mother of 9/11 first responder Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a American Muslim first responder who lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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