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Islamic Radicalization Hearings                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Mar/23/2011 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Society,

Congress is holding another hearing. Actually, Congress holds hundreds of hearings each year discussing everything from air travel, to ethics, to water policy, to vitamin safety. The value of most congressional hearing is debatable. Some Congressional hearings are a recurring ritual such as receiving reports from various federal agencies in a question and answer environment. Some hearings are a response to a tragedy such as the hearing that followed the attacks of September 11 or the banking meltdown of 2008. Unfortunately, there are plenty of hearings that seem only to serve as a forum for a Congressman to attempt to justify their existence through prognostication. Once in a while a hearing is held whose agenda, while oriented at fact finding is by its very subject controversial right from the beginning. The latest hearing definitely falls into the last category.

According to Rep. Peter King, Republican from New York and the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; the goal of the series of hearings to be held over the next 18 months is "to establish and show the American people that there is a real threat of al-Qaida recruiting and of homegrown terrorists being self-radicalized within the American Muslim community.” To my knowledge, this is the first time any Congressional hearing has been held purely focused on one ethnic or religious community.

I am challenged with whether to believe that Mr. Kings knows something we don’t, or that he is using the power of his office and position to push a personal agenda. Targeting one ethnic or religious group does more than merely hint at the possibility of an inquisition. As a minimum, he is playing on our media driven fears in a manner that is not too far removed from the Senator McCarthy “witch hunt” hearings of the 1950’s. In the hearings that Senator McCarthy chaired, the target was the great evil of that era…communism, also known as the “red scare”, or the “red menace.” Did you notice in the quote in the previous paragraph that Rep. King already knows what he wants to find, he is just looking for the facts to back it up...kinda scary.

There is no doubt that watching the evening news, reading the paper, or reading on line affords daily opportunities to be besieged by the actions of radical Islam. For many years we felt safe from this threat because we had been taught that only the young and poor could be easily manipulated to strap on a suicide vest for the promise of “rivers of honey and 17 virgins.” We all knew that “nobody like that exists in America.” Then attacks came from individuals who were by our standards “well educated.” While we could not understand how an intelligent and educated individual could go down this path, at least the attacks and bombing were not on our soil. The attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the attempted bombing by the “shoe bomber” have shown us that educated people as well make the choice to go down this path. It is therefore naïve to assume we can fully isolate ourselves from anything this dangerous indefinitely. We now know that American citizens have been recruited while on our soil to go overseas and join extremist causes and we have also had our citizens recruited and trained to attack targets on our own soil. The common thread with all these actions and peoples is a group of extremist known as radical Islam.

Holding hearings on the danger posed by radical Islam in the United States has inspired protest and counter protest, debate, editorials, petitions and even pray-ins well before the first witness took the stand. I have mixed feeling about the value, or lack of value to these hearings. Freedom of religion inspired many of our early settlers to cross the ocean at great peril and that same freedom is prominently established in our Constitution’s First Amendment. Choosing to scrutinize peoples and their behavior by first determining their religious affiliation is dangerous territory.

It is clear that King’s hearings are stoking anti-Islam hysteria at a time when the Muslim American community is already besieged by attacks on mosques, hate crimes and overzealous surveillance by law enforcement. When confronted on this point Congressman King argued that his critics are in “deep denial of the threat” and that he would not bow to what he calls “political correctness.” I have to admit that I cannot in my lifetime recall an incident where an extremist group of Hassidic Jews attempted to hijack a subway train in New York City. Since the end of the Second Crusades, I am unaware of any pattern of violence by extremist Christians against others not of their faith. I know, there is the Westboro Baptist church, while as a minimum they are misguided and by most standards rude and obnoxious, they are not as a group dangerous.

The problem here is that virtually all terrorism in the world for the last 40 years (with the exception of the Irish Republican Army) has been Islamic extremism. Will these hearings produce a more secure nation or further alienate the roughly 2.5 million Muslims living in the United States? There is of course the community based question. Since some many of these terrorist come from a single ethnic or religious community, “why aren’t other Muslim Americans doing more to discourage or report extremists in their midst?

I agree that it is legitimate to hold hearings on any aspect of radicalization, and I don’t want to dismiss these hearings out of hand. At the same time, I am legitimately concerned if an intentionally provocative approach to the hearings reduces or eliminates any cooperation that may exist with the Muslim American communities. Concurrently, many Muslims, as well as leaders of other religious and legal advocates, reject the premise of the discussion — that Islam can be singled out as more prone to engender radicalization and violent extremism than other religions potentially sets a dangerous precedent for isolating or discriminating by religion. Ultimately, by framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion. All of this sounds very similar to 70 years ago when Japanese Americans during World War II were rounded up and led to internment camps merely because of their ethnic background.

The proponents of these hearings warn of dangers posed by home-grown terrorists. This notion is perpetuated by the argument that the threat from Muslims in the U.S. has increased because anti-terrorism measures overseas have made it more difficult for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations to attack the United States from abroad. As a consequence, we are now told that the terrorists are currently focusing on indoctrinating American Muslims to carry out attacks. The deputy national security advisor reported recently that al-Qaida had changed its strategy and was now attempting to recruit and radicalize the Muslim American community. Examples of this include the failed Times Square bombing and the Fort Hood massacre, which were perpetrated by American Muslims influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in the United States to parents from Yemen.

Nidal Hassan, the Army major accused of shooting to death 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009, was a U.S. citizen born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Jordan. Although Hassan had exchanged email with al-Awlaki, experts have said he acted on his own.

Faisal Shahzad, who admitted attempting to detonate a car full of explosives in New York’s Times Square, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan. Shahzad trained with terrorist groups in Pakistan but told authorities that he was inspired by al-Awlaki through the Internet.

If this were just about public safety, we could look only at the numbers. In the last decade according to the Justice department there have been 33 deaths associated to home grown terrorist, while there have been over 150,000 associated to violent crime. But the nature of terrorist actions means we can’t just play the numbers, a single violent act could cost the lives of hundreds if not thousands like we saw in the 9/11 attack.

Congressman King argues that he is going after radicals, specifically young Muslim men who become radicalized and then pursued terror plots. But how do you find them if you don’t first ask “what is your faith?”

Extremism, even in the Muslim American community is a fringe behavior and as such comes from the fringes of the Muslim American Community. I firmly believe that these people are lone wolves and a relatively small group. These same fringe members may have even been kicked out or made to feel unwelcome at their own local mosque.

Fortunately, congressional hearings always have more than one panel member. A minority Democratic member of the committee has invited Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to testify. Sheriff Baca has already stated that he has had nothing but excellent cooperation from Muslims in his community.

Radicalization is a real and a serious problem, but it is also a limited problem involving a few dozen individuals over the past decade. There is no doubt in my mind that there is in portions of the Muslim world a “culture of Jihad”, but there are also people in my neighborhood who go out of their way on a regular basis to convince me I need to be “saved.”

I question whether Congressman King’s hearings will do anything to make us safer. Instead, the hearings could easily turn into a platform for Islamophobia all wrapped up in the American flag. I agree that we need to understand why the Muslims community is more vulnerable to being the source for radicalization, but not at the price of reinforcing ignorance, false religious stereotypes and intolerance. The fact that Peter King already has his conclusion, he's just looking for the facts to back it up is dangerous terrority. Bigotry in the name of national security is still exploiting fear and there is nothing more un-American.

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