It was billed as a McCarthy era smear against an innocent religious minority and likened to an attack against all Muslims and a propaganda win for al-Qaeda, which would claim the event proves that America is at war with Islam. The incident spawning such wrath was House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.” Most of the criticism fluctuated between King’s use of the term “Muslim” in the hearing’s title and the focus on Muslim extremism as opposed to all forms of “violent extremism.”
Given the hysteria leading up to the hearing one might have expected Chairman King to appear in a white hood calling for the internment of all Muslims in America. In truth, when it came to Chairman King and most of the witnesses, the hearing was no different than numerous other hearings that have been held on the same topic. The witness list was conventional – the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, two Congressmen, the leader of a Muslim advocacy group, and the fathers of two American Muslim men who became radicalized and violent. Despite the attacks against Chairman King, he is not the first to use such language in his hearing’s title or focus on this topic.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Joe Lieberman (I-CT), held a hearing in March 2009 entitled “Violent Islamist Extremism: Al-Shabaab Recruitment in America,” which covered a specific sub-set of the larger Muslim radicalization issue in America that Chairman King focused on. The Obama Administration’s witness at the Senate hearing even used the hearing’s title in his testimony. There was little uproar at the time, and while Senator Lieberman has been attacked for his views on the need to confront radical Islamists, there was nothing even approaching the ferocity of the verbal assaults unleashed against Chairman King.
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first witness and vocal critic of Chairman King’s hearing, and the only Muslim elected to Congress, culminated his testimony with a straw man argument as he described the death of New York paramedic Mohammed Salman Hamdani who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Congressman Ellison claimed Hamdani was originally smeared as a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks because he was a Muslim (the facts supporting this alleged smear are themselves questionable) and that Chairman King’s hearing was the moral equivalent of that smear, only the hearing smeared all Muslims in America. However, as Chairman King said in his opening statement:
I have repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country. But there are realities we cannot ignore. For instance, a Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community al-Qaeda is attempting to recruit.
Despite disturbing findings in the 2007 Pew Research Center poll and contrary to Congressman Ellison, Chairman King’s hearing in no way suggested that all Muslims are terrorists or that all violent extremists are Muslims. Thus, to put forward the heroic acts of a Muslim paramedic who sacrificed his life on 9/11 to save others is irrelevant to a hearing focused on the real threat of some Muslims in America being susceptible to violent radicalization including the roughly 190 Muslims who have engaged in Islamist based terrorism inside the U.S. since 9/11. Such terrorism has ranged from attempted bombings of office buildings in Dallas, Times Square and Christmas celebrations in Portland, Oregon, etc.
The reason the House Committee needed to have the hearing and its title is because radical Islamists are the very reason the Committee exists. The House Homeland Security Committee, like the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter Terrorism Center, the Director of National Intelligence, the Defense Department’s Homeland Defense and Northern Command structure, the FBI’s National Security Branch, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and predator drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere, were all borne out the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the ongoing threat posed by radical Islamists. These actions and agencies are not the result of the Columbine school shooting, anti-government right wing extremists, the mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, street gangs, neo-Nazis, or any other reason. Nor have any of these groups sought and received religious blessings and claimed it is their religious duty to acquire nuclear weapons and use them against the United States as has al-Qaeda.
When pressed, even Congressman Ellison has conceded the validity of holding hearings exclusively on Islamic radicalization in America as long as such hearings don’t refer specifically to Muslims or Islam in the hearing’s title. For example, Congressman Ellison said he would have no concern with a hearing on al-Qaeda in America. But this is exactly what Chairman King’s hearing was all about, and yet, because the hearing used the word Muslim in its title, Mr. Ellison and others fell off the deep end and questioned the legitimacy of the hearing’s content.
On the one hand it seems simple enough to accommodate Congressman Ellison and others who appear only to want the removal of the words Muslim or Islam in the title of any investigation into Muslim or Islamic inspired violence and to have such violence investigated in the larger context of “violent extremism.” However, to make such an accommodation would be akin to putting one’s head in the sand and pretending the threat posed by radical Islamists is entirely divorced from Islam and is of a type no different from conventional street gangs. It was this head in the sand approach that allowed Major Nidal Malik Hasan to run amok inside the U.S. Army for years talking about decapitating infidels while no one did anything to interdict him. Major Hasan’s radicalization ended in the murder of thirteen people at Fort Hood.
Congressman King has promised more hearings on Muslim radicalization in America. This is critically important as the United States tries to better understand a phenomenon which, if it consumed just one half of 1% of the estimated 1.5 million Muslims 18 or older in the U.S., could result in 7,500 violent radicals. Just nineteen men and their handlers killed nearly three thousand people in a matter of hours on 9/11. For that reason, Chairman King should call Muslims from across the U.S. to assist his Committee and the Nation in confronting this threat. For in the end, as was stated by Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Muslim Forum for Democracy, and witness at the hearing; Muslims must be on the front lines in confronting and defeating those Muslims who would slaughter innocents in the name of Islam.
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