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King hearings into Muslim American radicalisation continue
Peter King is chairing a series of hearings into perceived radicalisation of Muslims in America
Peter King is chairing congressional hearings into perceived radicalisation of Muslims in America. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

The Guardian
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Congressional hearings condemned by some as whipping up anti-Islamic sentiment but others insist they examine hard truths.

The US congressman Peter King has held his fifth congressional hearing on dangers posed by the radicalisation of Muslim Americans.

As chairman of the committee on homeland security, King has argued that the US faces a pre-eminent threat from homegrown Muslim American terrorists. Last summer he launched the hearings in response to the perceived danger.

Previous hearings have examined the scope of radicalisation in US communities, Muslim American radicalisation in US prisons, the Somali militant group al-Shabab's efforts at Muslim American recruitment and the threat to US military communities posed by homegrown terrorists.

Wednesday's hearing, entitled "The American Muslim Response to Hearings on Radicalisation within their Community", was aimed at gauging the impact the previous meetings have had on the nation's Muslim population.

In his opening statement King insisted the discussion was essential to US national security, citing statistics that showed 90% of terrorist attacks have been carried out by Muslims.

While noting that the "overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans", King added "the reality is that the Islamist terrorist threat comes from that community". He referenced a recent Pew Poll that he said demonstrated "16% of Muslim Americans have a favourable or only a somewhat unfavourable view of al-Qaida".

"That adds up to almost 440,000 people who are living in this country," he said. "That is why we have held this series of hearings and why we will not back down."

The committee's ranking member, Bennie Thompson, questioned the validity of holding a hearing to discuss previous hearings and disputed the notion that Muslims have not aided law enforcement in exposing terror plots. "There was never a problem with Muslims coming forward," he said, noting comments from National Counterterrorism Centre director, Michael Leiter, who said Muslims had played key roles in uncovering terror plans.

Thompson said he was concerned about the consequences the hearings could have for Muslim Americans, noting 2010 FBI statistics that reported a near 50% increase in "hate crimes" against Muslims.

Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program for the Brennan Centre for Justice, challenged the basis for the hearings, arguing that counterterrorim strategies should be grounded in empirical data. She maintained that Muslims had been willing to report on credible threats of violence but asking the community to report on perceptions of increased radicalisation was an overly "nebulous" request.

"I think we all agree that terrorism is a serious threat to our country," she said. "Our response must be equally serious and must be driven by evidence, not assumptions and stereotypes."

According to a recent study of post-9/11 Muslim American terrorism published by the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security, the number of Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators has steadily declined since 2009. "You cannot look at ideology as a predictor of violence," Patel said. "Congress should look at this issue on the basis of empirical evidence."

King's hearings have been controversial since their outset, with critics arguing they amount to Islamophobic McCarthyism, laying the groundwork for racial profiling while ignoring threats posed by non-Muslim extremists.

The New York congressman invited three witnesses to testify: Dr Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the author of Standing Alone – An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam; and Dr Qanta AA Ahmed, author of In the Land of Invisible Women, a memoir on living and working as a western Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia. Each maintained the hearings are a key tool in combating a growing threat.

"What these hearings provide is a dialogue," Jasser said. The danger of homegrown terrorism should not be insulated by religion, he argued. "The threat, if anything, is growing."

The Arizona physician and navy veteran has been one of King's most stalwart allies in advocating aggressive scrutiny of Muslim Americans. Jasser has been criticised for his role in narrating a film called The Third Jihad, which posits that American Muslims of all stripes are in the midst of an effort to seize control of the country. The film was shown to nearly 1,500 NYPD officers in training, prompting massive backlash from Muslim community groups and legal organisations.

Nomani, also an outspoken supporter of the NYPD's Muslim surveillance efforts, said the Muslim community needed to "grow up". "Americans are very frustrated with Muslims," she said, arguing that Muslims are "wound collectors".

"When you have that cycle of wounds you create a circle of denial," she said. "So that you end up saying: 'You're picking on us.'"

Ahmed said Muslim American communities were reminiscent of authoritarian Islamist regimes she had visited abroad. "I've seen the impacts of violent Islamist extremism," she said. "It's clear that similar patterns are at work here in the United States."

Ahmed maintained that the hearings were not an occasion to promote Islamophobia but rather an opportunity to advance critical debate. "This is not a civil rights issue," she said.

The Michigan congressman Hansen Clark said he would prefer to see the committee focus its energy on a comprehensive cyber-security bill or allocating resources so he could protect Detroit's water from a bio-terror attack. He argued the hearings were inappropriate.

"I hope this is the last set of hearings on this issue," he said. "It's an assault against all Americans."


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