While you’re trekking through the Yard this morning to celebrate Housing Day, the House Committee on Homeland Security will be holding its first in a series of hearings on the “Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community.” The hearings, chaired by Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), are intended to probe the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the extent of the Muslim community’s cooperation with law enforcement on stymieing it.
A crowd of 500 gathered in Times Square on Sunday to protest these investigations, accusing King of bigotry and xenophobia for limiting his scope only to Islamic radicalism. A letter sent to King on Monday signed by over fifty American progressive groups echoed this concern. “Singling out a particular community for examination” will “provid[e] little valuable insight into the prevention of domestic terrorism,” the letter exhorts.
This argument is the epitome of spineless political correctness. To ignore the unique threat posed by Islamic extremism over any other religious or ideological extremism in the U.S. is myopic and dangerous, and to assert that we must also examine other extremisms in these hearings for the sake of “fairness” is absurd. The problem, however, is that King has done a terrible job of differentiating the miniscule number of radical Islamists in this country from the diverse population of 2.5 million Muslims living in America. In fact, given his past incendiary rhetoric on Islam, King is one of the worst possible people to head these hearings, and his continued involvement will only ensure that they further alienate American Muslims.
In the past two years, forty-nine suspects have been charged with acts of international terrorism in the U.S., nearly all of them Muslims acting by an extreme interpretation of their faith. A report by the Bipartisan Policy Center released this past September argues that many of these men were in contact with radical clerics affiliated with Al Qaida, including the Yemen-based Anwar Al-Awlaki. The threat from Al Qaida “is more complex and more diverse than at any time over the past nine years,” the report asserts, precisely because of “the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups.” To argue that a governmental committee devoted to America’s security should not examine this specific threat is preposterous.
Furthermore, there are serious discussions that need to be had regarding the role of some Islamic leaders in discouraging constituents to cooperate with law enforcement. Two months ago, for example, a chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim advocacy group in the United States, came under fire for distributing ominous posters exhorting the reader, “Don’t Talk to the FBI.” Indeed, CAIR has long taken umbrage with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice’s tactics for identifying security threats in the Muslim community, including the use of entrapment, racial profiling, housing raids, and wiretapping. These House hearings could help illuminate this strife, and create a productive discourse that would allow for communication between certain Islamic leaders and law enforcement to protect against future threats effectively.
Unfortunately, this will never happen with Peter King chairing these hearings.
By framing these hearings as though they are meant to examine the radicalization of the “American Muslim Community,” King is inherently implicating the majority of American Muslims in what should only be an inquiry into Islamic extremism. Less than 200 Muslims have been suspected of plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, and poll after poll indicate that the vast majority of Muslims in the U.S. eschew violent belief. Indeed, although King believes that “there has been a lack of full cooperation from too many people in the Muslim community,” approximately forty percent of the terrorist attacks attempted by Islamists since 9/11 have actually been thwarted due to tips from Muslim Americans.
You would never know any of these facts, however, from King’s rhetoric these past few weeks. In January, for example, King asserted that “over 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams.” Not only is this statistic wildly overinflated, but studies show that mosques are actually some of the greatest contributors to de-radicalization in the United States. Furthermore, two weeks ago, King told the Associated Press that “there is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community,” dovetailing with his statement from 2007 that “there are too many mosques in this country.”
And then he reacts with shock when Muslims compare him to Joseph McCarthy.
Because of King’s involvement, instead of a necessary discourse on the threat of radical Islamism—and the nuanced and sensitive discussion required in order to help law enforcement deal with it efficiently—we now have hearings that only alienate the same moderates whose help the American government truly needs in order to solve this problem. The U.S. must not refrain from discussing the threat of Islamic extremism, but King needs to either dramatically change the tone of these hearings or step down entirely so that we can discuss it civilly, effectively, and maturely.
Avishai D. Don ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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