A picture of Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

About Sen. Benjamin
  • Combating Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Other Forms of Intolerance

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2015-12-15

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    CARDIN. Mr. President, I have had the honor of being the ranking Democrat for the U.S. Senate on the Helsinki Commission. I work with Senator Wicker, who is the Senate chairman of the Helsinki Commission. The two of us have worked very hard on many issues.

    As I am sure everyone here knows, the Helsinki Commission is the implementing arm for U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--the OSCE. It is probably best known for its human rights basket. It does deal with security, military security. It does deal with economic and environmental security. But I think it is best known for its human rights and the impact human rights have on the security of the OSCE region.

    In March of this year, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mr. Ilkka Kanerva, appointed me to serve as the assembly's first special representative on anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance. Since that time, I have focused my work on the urgent issue of anti-Semitism and community security, anti-Muslim bigotry, and discriminatory policing. So let me share with my colleagues the work I have done this year on behalf of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and on behalf of all Members of the Senate.

    My appointment came after horrific back-to-back terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February. In both instances, Jewish institutions were targeted--a kosher supermarket in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen. In both instances, some symbol associated with free speech was also attacked. In Paris, a murderous rampage was unleashed against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In Copenhagen, a conference on free speech, where a Danish cartoonist was among the speakers, was attacked.

    I subsequently visited both cities, along with Senator Wicker and Representative Aderholt, fellow members of the Helsinki Commission. Following our trip, I authored Senate provisions to increase State Department funding to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination in Europe and cosponsored Senator Menendez's resolution on anti-Semitism. That resolution supports national strategies to combat and monitor anti-Semitism and hate crimes, including training law enforcement and collecting relevant data. I am pleased that our State Department has advanced many of the efforts outlined in these legislative provisions through OSCE and civil society initiatives.

    I have also focused on the problem of discriminatory policing. This summer, Hungary's Commissioner for Fundamental Rights issued an important report on community policing in Hungary's second largest city, Miskolc. He [[Page S8655]] concluded that police had participated in mass, raid-like joint controls, executed with local government authorities, public utility providers, and other public institutions, without explicit legal authorization and predominantly in segregated areas inhabited mostly by Roma. In short, police targeted Roma for harassment, fines, and daily indignities.

    For those of us who listened to Attorney General Holder present the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson last March, the Hungarian Commissioner's report has the feeling of deja vu--many differences, to be sure, but similar in that critical community confidence in law enforcement has been abused and damaged.

    I have sought to address these issues with several pieces of legislation, including S. 1056, the End Racial Profiling Act; S. 1610, officially named the BALTIMORE Act, Building and Lifting Trust in Order to Multiply Opportunities in Racial Equality, and S. 2168, the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. Among other provisions, these laws would ban racial profiling by State and local law enforcement, establish mandatory data collection and reporting, and address the issues of police accountability and building trust between police departments and communities by providing incentives for local police organizations to voluntarily adopt performance-based standards to reduce misconduct.

    In the OSCE, where discriminatory policing issues have been documented from the United Kingdom and France to Russia, I have urged the chair-in-office to hold a high-level meeting on racism and xenophobia focused on concrete action.

    Following the most recent tragedies in Paris and San Bernardino, there has been a backlash of hatred directed against the asylum seekers, immigrants, and Muslims in many OSCE countries, often fueled by populist or extremist parties, such as Le Pen in France, UKIP in Great Britain, the True Finns in Finland, Swedish Democrats, Austrian Freedom Party, or Golden Dawn in Greece. Worse still, this kind of xenophobia bleeds into the discourse of mainstream parties. As such, I will add an increased focus on prejudice and discrimination linked with the migration and refugee crisis to my priorities.

    In addition to focusing on anti-Semitism and discriminatory policing and the anti-Muslim backlash, I will also look at the protection of migrants and refugees, as that is becoming an area of discrimination that is troubling in the OSCE region--including in our own country of the United States. I am particularly troubled by the spike in violence in our own country directed at houses of worship and community centers--fueled by escalating anti-Muslim discourse. In Palm Beach, FL, vandals broke all the windows at the Islamic Center, ransacked the prayer room, and left bloody stains throughout the center. That cannot be tolerated in our country. A number of mosques have reported receiving death threats or messages of hate. A pig's head was thrown at a Philadelphia mosque, shots were fired at a mosque in Connecticut, and a fake bomb was left at a Virginia mosque not far from where we are here today in the U.S. Capitol.

    I disagree in the most emphatic way possible with those who would have us call for excluding people from this country based on their faith, and limiting political participation based on religion. That is not who we are. Those are not our values.

    The images of Jewish refugees on SS St. Louis turned away, port after port, many of whom ultimately perished in death camps, and the image of American citizens, including children, imprisoned in internment camps solely because of their race, are dark corners of our own history. We must be careful not to retread that path. It is one reason I question those who describe terrorism as a Muslim problem. Such statements prevent our communities from working together against a common threat. The slaughter of schoolchildren in Columbine, the massacre of churchgoers in Charleston, and the Oklahoma City bombings were not White problems just because the perpetrators were White; neither should the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino be distilled as Muslim problems.

    Radicalization is a very real problem that currently tries to exploit the Muslim community, but it is our problem--Muslims Jews, Christians, Whites, Latinos, Blacks, all Americans--to all come together to solve this problem.

    When I see the young people who engaged in these horrible acts, I question why they were susceptible to such great untruths that would allow them to harm themselves and others. No family should have to lose their mother, son, or cousin to mass shootings. No family should have to live with the fear that their loved ones were the perpetrators of mass violence. We must work together to guard against such ideologies that would steal our young people from us.

    Given that the United States is historically a nation built upon immigration and the tenets of religious freedom, Americans have long lived alongside others and have seen people of different faiths live together in peace. Muslims have lived in America since the colonial days and served under the command of George Washington. There are an estimated 5,900 Muslims who currently serve in our armed services defending our country and our way of life. When the Supreme Court ruled this summer in favor of a young Muslim woman who allegedly suffered employment discrimination because of her head scarf, Justice Scalia announced the 8-to-1 decision, noting, ``This is really easy.'' Neither immigrants nor Muslims are new to our shores.

    Islam is also not new to Europe. Europe's own historic relationship with the rest of the globe has set the stage for ties that have long served as the backbone of prosperity for the Western world. Europeans have created a presence throughout the world--and that is a two-way street. Many countries in the OSCE region, including our own, therefore have a learned history of integration that can be useful in addressing the increasing diversity stemming from the refugee crisis and changing demographics.

    Given the conflicts that have forced mass displacement and migration, we should support long-term inclusion and integration efforts at the national, regional, and local level throughout the OSCE region-- especially with the leaders of humanitarian efforts for Syrian and other refugees--such as what is being done today in Turkey, Germany, Sweden, Austria, and OSCE partner states such as Jordan and Lebanon. They are taking on tremendous burdens for the refugees because they know it is the right thing to do. They need partners, including the United States.

    The successful integration of immigrants and refugees--including access to quality housing, education, employment, and public services-- facilitates meaningful intellectual, economic, and other contributions of migrants and refugees that are especially critical for children. These are areas in which our nations should exchange experts and information.

    Earlier this year, I introduced provisions in the Senate for a Joint Action Plan between the United States and the European Union to formulize and coordinate public and private sector anti-discrimination and inclusion efforts. We need diverse coalitions working together to address the momentous threats we face today. This includes leading by example by providing factual information about refugees and immigrants and publicly addressing narratives of hate. It is in that spirit that I will continue to work with other parliamentarians and with the administration to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance in the United States and elsewhere in the OSCE region. I will do that as the special representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and I will do that as a U.S. Senator.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.


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