Homeland Security Committee Debates If Past Hearings Helped National Security Or Vilified American Muslims
Congressman Peter King brought Muslim responses to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearings on American Muslim radicalization to the hearing floor, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, in a heated attempt to clean up the impact of previous hearings on the Muslim community.
“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 wrote in a prepared statement.
The hearing is the fifth in a controversial series that began in 2010 in response to what King calls the “radicalization threat” posed by the Muslim community. The series has struck a nerve with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other reputable organizations across the nation. CAIR’s Corey Saylor has called the hearing a political show “for political gain,” asking for broader, empirically-based dialogue.
While King has conceded that only a small fraction of American Muslims have ties to terrorism, argues that extremists have outsized influence, citing that over 90 percent of mosques in the US are controlled by jihadists, a figure that has since been debunked.
Attorney General Eric Holder has also cited that the threat of homegrown terrorism “keeps me up at night,” citing national security threats posted by Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Major Nidal Hasan - the Fort Hood shooter, and failed Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
Scant on new data and heavy on lengthy anecdotes, the latest hearing split across party lines, with Republicans defending prior hearings and Democrats questioning their misguidance and necessity. Meant to gauge the effectiveness and impact of previous hearings, it instead dwelled upon many of the issues raised in previous hearings, suggesting the committee had not gone forward in its investigation.
In the first hearing, titled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim community and that Community’s response,” King and Muslim witnesses attested to the emerging threat of radicalization, repeatedly citing the conveyer belt model, which identifies key radicalization phases where intervention was needed. King also stated that Muslims generally were not cooperative with law enforcement officials, especially when it came to the idea of having FBI informants in masajid.
His second hearing addressed radicalization in U.S. prisons, citing that many converts to Islam have been “radicalized to Islamism” and “subsequently attempted to launch terror strikes here in the U.S.” In his third hearing, King tackled the threat posed by the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab, a group fighting with transitional Somali government for control of the country, citing that it has radicalized more than 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Canadians. His fourth hearing tackled not an outside threat, but a radicalization within the U.S. military.
The counterarguments were also a rewind of previous hearings where opponents have disputed King’s central premise - that American Muslims are complicit in the radicalization of a tiny minority.
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 and calling for real empirical evidence of any radicalization threat or the benefit of the hearings.
“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.
Witnesses for previous homeland security meetings have included law enforcement officers, doctors, youth who claim to be radicalized, and small leaders of various Muslim cmmunities
Some of the most prominent of these witnesses include Dr. Jasser, a Muslim doctor who also testified in Wednesday’s hearing and has openly stated Muslims have failed to thank the FBI for ferreting out radicals within their community, forging an adversarial role with law enforcement. Minority witnesses such as Lee Baca, Sheriff of Los Angeles County, California, however, have been critical of these statements, saying Muslims were “ready and willing to connect with law enforcement to help keep the peace.”
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 extremism, saying that the current model of investigating threats was ineffective because it likened Muslim piety with extremism.
But for Devon Chaffee of the ACLU, the fact that the hearing was a hearing on previous hearings was enough basis for criticism.
“[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.”
For more information on the series of hearings, including transcripts and video, visit http://homeland.house.gov/domestic-radicalization-hearings .