Congress debated an amendment Thursday that would result in the “strategic assessments” of the practitioners of Islam, including singling out Muslim leaders with so-called extremist views.
The amendment would require Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “conduct two concurrent strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”
Democrats criticized the bill as bigoted and un-American because of its propensity to stigmatize an entire religious group for the actions of a select few radicals. Opponents also deemed the amendment as unconstitutional and undermining of American national security.
“Nobody is saying you can’t study terrorism,” Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota told the House floor. “You can study what motivates people to commit acts of terrorism. And we should. But we don’t, not equally. The fact is, this amendment singled out one religious group. It’s wrong and it should be voted down.”
Ellison — one of two Muslim congressmen in the House — sent a letter to fellow politicians, which was obtained by VICE News, urging Congress to vote no on the bill.
“This amendment stigmatizes people simply because they practice a specific religion,” Ellison wrote. “The idea that Congress is seriously considering an amendment that legislates stigmatization and hate in direct contradiction of the Constitution is outrageous.”
The author of the amendment, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, has previously warned of the “creeping threat of Sharia” and claimed that President Barack Obama, a Christian, was governing the country under Muslim law.
On the House floor, Franks also argued that the study would “save lives around the world” from Islam, which he deemed a dominant force of global terrorism.
“Our allies across the world, including the Muslim world, have now begun to study and understand the ideology that foments Islamist terrorism so they can begin to resist it on a strategic ideological level,” Franks said. “If we, in America, do not also address this on a strategic level, this underlying ideology that catalyzes the evil of jihadist terrorism across the world, then its list of victims will only grow longer.”
One of the dual reviews mandated under the amendment would be conducted by “non-governmental experts from academia, industry, or other entities not currently a part of the United States Government.”
It is unclear why the amendment calls for a separate report from outside experts. But one possible reason is that many senior figures in the Trump administration believe America is in the midst of a war between the West and Islam, even if past presidential administrations have not acknowledged it. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has also deemed Islam as the “most radical” religion in the world,” and stated that “the the U.S. is engaged in a ‘global existential war.”
The House is set to vote on the amendment Friday.