“I was vilified by the politically correct media, pandering politicians and radical groups such as CAIR – even though this issue was non-partisan and of serious concern to national security and counterterrorism officials in the Obama administration,” King read in a prepared statement. The hearing is the fifth in a controversial series that has covered radicalization in prisons, communities, recruitment, and military threats.
Scant on new data and heavy on lengthy anecdotes, the hearing split across party lines, with Republicans defending prior hearings and Democrats questioning their misguidance and necessity. One Congress member liked the hearing to reality TV and talk show host Oprah Winfrey; another grilled the witnesses on their security clearances.
King said his hearings had helped created inroads in the radicalization threat and had encouraged Muslims to come face-to-face with an emerging issue many want to ignore. “The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans, yet the reality is that the Islamist terror threat comes from the community," he said.
Three of four Muslim witnesses - M. Zuhdi Jasser, the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Islamic culture instructor to the U.S. military; and Qanta A.A. Ahmed, a physician and political and religious writer - supported King and said they’d opened up a much-needed dialogue within their community.
“The hearings do not represent a witchhunt and Congressman King is no Joe McCarthy (the US senator who led hearings on communist infiltration of government and the army),” Nomani said, ”The hearings represent an important wake-up call that we, as Americans, are not going to continue to dance around the reality of an extremist ideology of Islam, which is wreaking havoc in the world.”
But witness Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Justice – the only minority witness - and other committee members – such as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Gene Green, both of Texas - disagreed, saying the hearings drove a wedge between Muslims and their fellow Americans.
“When members of Congress hold hearings about the ‘radicalization’ of American Muslims and expressly place an entire community under the spotlight, it sends the message to all Americans that the government views this community as a security threat. And the public appears to be receiving this message loud and clear,” Patel said.
Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., argued that the heated political discourse has resulted in discrimination beyond Muslims. "These hearings are not an assault against Islam," he said, "It's (an) assault against all Americans, especially Asian Americans," he said.
Top committee Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi was also skeptical of the hearings. “We are holding today’s hearing to discuss the effect of previous hearings. I am not sure we have ever had a hearing to gauge the effects of prior hearings,” Thompson said. “Given the challenges the nation faces in homeland security . . . I am not sure that a hearing to gauge the effects of our hearings is the most effective use of congressional time and attention.”
Other members compared the hearings to reality TV and Oprah Winfrey while another grilled the witnesses on their security clearances in an attempt to bring to cast a shadow on the witnesses’ credibility as national security, terrorism, and law-enforcement experts.
However, both sides acknowledged the distinction between Islam and misinterpretations of Islamic ideology. Ahmed said that the King hearings helped separate Islam from extremism, creating a platform for discussion. Patel, however, held that any religion can breed extremist, saying that the current model of investigating threats was ineffective because it likened Muslim piety with extremism.
But for Devon Chaffee of the American Civil Liberties Union, this argument of ideology wasn’t only flawed – the whole premise of the hearing was. “[It] was absurd and outlandish,” he wrote in a statement, “The answer to the question, “Does a hearing about hearings make those hearings any more legitimate?”, is, predictably, “No.” Let’s hope King doesn’t try again and suggest a hearing on the hearing on the hearings.”