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USA Today - Senate to Hold Hearing on Anti-Muslim Bigotry

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Location: Washington, DC

After a House hearing this month about the radicalization of Muslims sparked tears and accusations of demonization of an entire group of people, a Senate hearing Tuesday will look at what's being done to address anti-Muslim discrimination.

"Our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who will chair the hearing. He said it follows a spike in anti-Muslim bigotry over the past year.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization based in San Francisco, said the incidents of bigotry stem from a number of things, including media attention to a proposed community center and mosque a few blocks from the World Trade Center and attempts to score "political points" by saying President Obama is a Muslim. He is a Christian.

"Muslim-bashing gets traction in politics," Khera said.

An August study by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of Republicans, 27% of Democrats and 40% of independents feel unfavorably toward Islam.

Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate activities, said several new anti-Muslim groups have "sprung up" over the past year.

The hearing is not in response to one held this month by Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., and has been planned since Durbin was named chairman in February of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Judiciary Subcommittee, said Durbin's spokesman, Max Gleischman.

King said he found it strange that there would be a hearing that focused on anti-Muslim discrimination after he was criticized for looking at the radicalization of just one group. "There are nine times as many anti-Semitic incidences as Muslim," he said.

Beirich said that's a difficult comparison because there's a larger population of Jewish people than Muslim people in the United States.

King said Muslims want to "create a myth of victimization."

"I think Muslim Americans are perpetuating a myth that there's a bias against Muslims," he said. "After sitting down with these groups, somehow you would think they're the victims of 9/11.

"Having said that, one incident is too much."

Khera said that dozens of Muslim Americans did, in fact, die during the attacks on the World Trade Center, and that one Muslim man gave his life as a first responder.

"It sounds like Rep. King is continuing his campaign to propagate misinformation and fear about Muslim Americans," she said. "There are real-life consequences of discrimination in Muslims' everyday life, from workplace discrimination to children bullied at school."

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