Let's start by conceding that Americans have mixed feelings on the issue.
A new national survey by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked participants whether they thought Islam is likelier than other religions to promote violence. Forty percent said yes, while 42 percent disagreed. Sixty-six percent of conservative Republicans believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions, and 46 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans, 31 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of liberal Democrats concur.
Some pundits on the left have used this poll as proof that King's inquiry is out of touch with mainstream attitudes. But the idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified liberals -- folks who place tremendous importance on "diversity" and "tolerance" -- admit that one religion is more prone to violence than others seems pretty significant.
And that's when answering an unreasonable question. The inquiry should not have asked whether Islam is "more likely than other religions to encourage violence," but rather, "Which religious fundamentalism is likeliest to encourage violence?"
It isn't bigotry to point out that Islam has a strain within it that utilizes uncompromising violence as a political tool. This is an admission made by many moderate Muslims. It's reality.
Another reality is that the depth of radicalism in Islam is unique in the modern world -- and a threat to citizens in the United States. Some argue there is equal Christian violence -- mixing in the Loughners and the McVeighs and anyone else they can find -- to suggest that domestic terrorism is an amorphous idea with guilt equally distributed among all denominations of crazy.
That is absurd. In those rare cases, religion is typically incidental to the crime, not the driving reason for it. Certainly, those incidents are not underwritten by a worldview that demands submission. That's the fundamental difference between Nidal Malik Hasan and a rogue madman.
Even Attorney General Eric Holder recently claimed that one of the few things keeping him up at night is the threat of domestic terror, that "the threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here to worrying about people in the United States, American citizens raised here, born here and who, for whatever reason, have decided that they are going to become radicalized and take up arms against the nation in which they were born."
The reason is a tempting, very specific faith-based ideology. Generally, people are not born with an innate desire to obliterate innocent people. Generally.
Now, admittedly, I don't believe criticism of religious ideology is equivalent to prejudice. Why does any belief deserve dispensation for its stunningly illiberal outlook of, say, the role of women in society? In Egypt's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anticipated democratic nation, a mob of God-fearing men aggressively descended on the women there on International Women's Day, intimidating and abusing them.
Sometimes it seems some people are more concerned with admonishing political incorrectness than they are with rebuking overt intolerance.
And though I am skeptical that King's hearings will accomplish anything constructive, the obfuscation of his goals is, in the end, more harmful than the hearings themselves. Because it's the critics who have falsely transformed a ham-handed congressman's hearing on radicalism into an imagined referendum on all American Muslims. Which turns something useless into something incendiary.