Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shame On You, Rep. King: Controversial Radicalization Hearings Begin

Controversial Congressional hearings on the threat of Islamic radicalization in the United States began today, despite wide-spread concern that the hearings might harm or alienate domestic Muslim communities. Acknowledging the controversy generated ahead of the hearings, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY) described the hearings as the "logical response" to warnings against future acts of home-grown Islamic terrorism.

Even as the hearings get under way, Rep. King still fails to see that there is absolutely nothing "logical" about his pet hearings. In fact, the reasoning behind the hearings is not only deeply flawed from a logical perspective, but from a moral perspective as well. Focusing these hearings only on radicalization among our domestic Muslim community perpetuates the dangerous conservative narrative that somehow the conflates the actions of a handful of radicals with the beliefs and practices of the millions of Muslims living in the United States. This sort of guilt by association not only displays a deep-seated intellectual dishonesty on the part of Rep. King and his supporters, but an ignorance, either genuine or willful, on the part of these individuals regarding the incredible internal diversity of Muslim belief and practice in the United States.

The stated focus of the hearings, namely the willingness of US Muslims to aid law enforcement officials in preventing Islamic terrorism, itself belies the incredible double standard to which conservative ideologues like King hold American Muslims. As Jon Stewart observed in a particularly poignant moment on his program this week,
"It's not enough for American Muslims to be law abiding. To avoid Congressional investigation they have to be actively stopping terror plots."
A short time ago, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim-American elected to the US Congress, gave a powerful testimony before the Committee. Rep. Ellison, who has been outspoken on the potential hazards of the hearings, calmly explained to the Committee that although violent extremism is a legitimate security concern, the Committee's approach to the issue is "contrary to American values, and threatens our security." As an alternative to the divisive and potentially dangerous hearings, Rep. Ellison called for increased understanding and engagement with Muslim American communities as a more just and effective way to keep the United States safe.

From Rep. Ellison's testimony:
Throughout human history, individuals from all communities and faiths have used religion and political ideology to justify violence. Let's think about the KKK, America's oldest terrorist organization; the Oklahoma City bombing; the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by James von Brunn; and bombings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Did Congress focus on the ethnic group and religion of these agents of violence as a matter of public policy? The answer is no.

Stoking fears about entire groups for a political agenda is also not new in American history. During World War II the US government interned Japanese Americans and spied on German Americans. During John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, his opponents portrayed a dire future for an America with a Catholic president. We now view these events of our past as a breach of our treasured American values.
In perhaps the most powerful episode of the hearings so far, Rep. Ellison was moved to tears recounting the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old first responder and New York City police cadet who died after rushing to help people trapped in the World Trade Center. Rep. Ellison explains how Hamdani's reputation was later smeared due to his faith.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca also spoke before the Committee today, and deftly exposed many of the dishonest, immoral assumptions underlying the 'logic' of the hearings. Sheriff Baca, who is the only law enforcement official called to speak today, explained how the hearings presume that some religious groups (Muslims) are more prone to radicalization than others, when violent extremism is in fact on the rise among "people of all religious backgrounds and all kinds of faiths." Sheriff Baca also cited figures demonstrating that domestic Muslim communities have actively assisted in thwarting 7 of the last 10 al-Qaeda-linked plots targeting the United States or its interests abroad, and called the question of whether or not American Muslims are willing to collaborate with law enforcement officials an "established fact."

And as one final point of fact, what does it say about hearings ostensibly focused on the willingness of Muslim Americans to cooperate with law enforcement officials that only calls one law enforcement official to testify, and one who was added to the panel by Democratic lawmakers at that?

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