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Originally published Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 4:59 PM

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Op-ed: Michele Bachmann's blatant Muslim fearmongering

Michele Bachmann was blatantly fearmongering when she accused Huma Abedin — an American Muslim woman who serves as an aide to Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton — of trying to infiltrate the U.S. government as an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Special to The Times

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MICHELE Bachmann was blatantly fearmongering when she singled out Huma Abedin — an American Muslim woman who serves as an aide to Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton — and accused Abedin of trying to infiltrate the U.S. government as an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bachmann said Abedin's family is connected to operatives of the Brotherhood in a letter to the State Department, adding that Abedin's position "affords her routine access to the secretary and policymaking."

The claim by Bachmann that Abedin has family ties to the Brotherhood is wholly unsubstantiated, and has come under fierce criticism across the political spectrum. Many have called for Bachmann's actions to be censured in similar fashion to Sen. Joseph McCarthy following his witch hunt for communists 60 years ago.

McCarthy's witch hunt effectively justified a kind of police state in which citizens were investigated, accused and tried for having ties to communist organizations, regardless of how tenuous those associations may have been.

Have Muslims become the new target of McCarthyist tactics? Is it now justifiable to marginalize and even criminalize U.S. citizens for real or imaginary ties to Islamic religious or political organizations?

Guilt by fantasy continues to be used by influential political and media figures to discredit American Muslim leaders as well as American Muslim institutions. These false accusations disregard Muslims' contributions to American society and the democratic process.

The Bachmann episode should serve as a reminder to Islamophobes that times are changing and that if they misrepresent the truth, they will be called out by leaders from all corners. It should also serve as a call to the American public to reject and deny such fearmongers the prominence they so desperately seek.

American Muslims are part of the fabric of U.S. society. Each year, tens of thousands of American Muslims — including thousands in the state of Washington alone — become newly registered voters as a result of ongoing nationwide voter-registration efforts. Hundreds across the nation are volunteering in political campaigns and work in lawmakers' offices.

A few years ago, comments like Bachmann's may have gone without rebuke from mainstream Republican Party leaders. The fact that House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. John McCain and many other prominent Republicans publicly criticized Bachmann speaks to American Muslims' increased engagement and influence in local and national politics.

A research report titled "Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America" sums it up best: In order to safeguard our national security and uphold America's core values, we must return to a fact-based civil discourse regarding the challenges we face as a nation and as a world. This discourse must be frank and honest, but also consistent with American values of religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and respect for pluralism.

A first step toward the goal of honest, civil discourse is to expose and marginalize the influence of the individuals and groups whose Islamophobia is dividing Americans against one another through misinformation. Let us learn the proper lessons from eras past, and rise toward public awareness, acceptance and respect for our fellow Americans. Let us prevent hatred from infecting and endangering our country again.

Arsalan Bukhari, left, is executive director of CAIR-Washington, a civil-rights nonprofit that promotes understanding of Islam. John Albert is a communications intern at CAIR-Washington and a UW senior pursuing a degree in international studies.

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