|Senator Lindsey Graham said US Muslims "must do more" to protect the country [GALLO/GETTY]
Muslim citizens of the United States face growing discrimination in daily life, manifesting itself in violence, vandalism and arson, a US congressional panel has been told.
Speakers on Tuesday said that evidence of anti-Muslim bigotry included inflammatory remarks made by elected public officials.
"We continue to solicit and receive the support of many Muslim Americans who love this nation and work with our government to protect it," Democratic senator Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate judiciary subcommittee chair, said.
"At the same time, many law-abiding Muslim Americans face discrimination and charges that they're not real Americans simply because of their religion."
Earlier this month, Republican congressman Peter King held a hearing on "radicalisation in the US Muslim community", which Amnesty International, alongside a coalition of 50 other organisations, described as akin to senator Joe McCarthy's campaign against those suspected of having communist sympathies in the 1950s.
Efforts are also under way in several US states to ban Islamic legal practice as a perceived threat to the country's legal system.
Muhammed Malik, Muslim-American community advocate in Florida, said: "These 'anti-sharia' proposals are wild manifestations of an increasingly rabid Islamophobia which aims to cause division and mobilise the fear vote in 2012.
"That such measures are being introduced speaks volumes about how many of our politicians are more interested in distracting the public's attention away from more important issues, such as improving our economy and ending racial profiling."
Muslims 'must do more'
Republican senator Lindsey Graham told the congressional panel he supported "Muslim rights" - but called on Muslims to do more "to protect the United States from attack".
"Get in this fight," he said. "You're going to have to help your country, probably uniquely compared to anyone else - understand what's going on and fight back. The front lines of this war are in our own back door and our own neighbourhoods."
The number of federal discrimination cases brought by local authorities to prevent mosques from opening in their communities surged in May 2010, the committee was told. More than 800 incidents of violence, vandalism and arson against people believed to be Muslim, Arab or South Asian, have been investigated by the justice department in the past 10 years.
Thomas Perez, the assistant US attorney general for civil rights, said there had been a 150 per cent jump in workplace discrimination against Muslims since 2001, often over religious dress and worship schedules, while Muslim youth are often the victims of bullying in schools.
'Too many mosques'
Tuesday's hearing quickly became split along party lines, after Congressman King told reporters the proceedings would "perpetuate the myth that there is a serious anti-Islam issue in this country".
Senator Durbin responded by referring to controversial remarks attributed to King and Newt Gingrich, a former Republican House speaker now considering a bid for the White House.
"A leading member of Congress stated bluntly: 'There are too many mosques in this country'. A former speaker of the House falsely claimed: 'America's experiencing an Islamist cultural political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilisation'," Durbin said.
"Such inflammatory speech from prominent public leaders creates a fertile climate for discrimination."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies