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NY State Senate Homeland Security Committee Hearing Must Focus on Legitimate Public Safety Concerns, not Fear-Mongering Directed at Muslims

Indian Point Power Plant, Buchanan NY

Image by neatnessdotcom via Flickr

A State Senate committee hearing scheduled on Friday to purportedly examine homeland security issues must not be used as a forum to attack and demonize Muslim and immigrant New Yorkers, New York Neighbors for American Values, a coalition of more than 100 civic, labor and religious organizations, urged today in a letter to state Sen. Gregory R. Ball, R- 40th district, chairman of the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.

According to a memo circulated by Ball’s office, Friday’s homeland security committee hearing is titled “Reviewing our Preparedness: An Examination of New York’s Public Protection Ten Years After September 11.” The important agenda topics include the NYPD’s preparedness for terrorist attacks, radio interoperability in the MTA and potential threats posed by the Indian Point nuclear plant. But it also includes topics such as “the culture of jihad and shariah law,” and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

While the coalition welcomes the committee’s focus on New York’s emergency preparedness for a terrorist attack, the coalition expressed concern about some of the hearing’s topics and the lopsided witness list, which suggest that the hearing will advance a political agenda, like that of Representative Peter King, which questions the Muslim community’s loyalty to the United States, and conflates religious practices with preparations for terrorism.

The hearing agenda released by Ball’s office provides insight into the hearing’s intent. Security at the Indian Point nuclear plant, perhaps one of the greatest potential threats to New Yorkers’ safety and a timely subject, is scheduled for a 15-minute discussion, while the discussion of Sharia law is scheduled for 30 minutes.

“This hearing is being used as a political platform to promote Islamophobia, instead of a serious and judicious look at our preparedness since 2001,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York; a coalition member. “It is in every New Yorker’s interest that our public servants examine our safety without the insertion of bias and fear-mongering for cheap political points. To have biased and ideologically-driven sources testifying at length next to high-ranking city officials is absurd, and distorts the public discourse on these critical issues”

“The committee hearing should focus on public safety and emergency preparedness, not on isolating and condemning Muslim and immigrant New Yorkers,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union; a coalition member. “In America, we do not judge people by their religion, race or beliefs. Stereotyping and guilt-by-association smears distract and divide us, instead of uniting us.”

New York Neighbors for American Values was formed in the summer of 2010 in response to anti-Muslim sentiments expressed in the opposition to plans to develop an Islamic community center near ground zero. Its members embrace the American constitutional values of religious freedom, diversity, and equalityand work to counteract anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric and actions in New York City.

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