‘Radicalization’ hearings worry U.S. Muslims

January 5, 2011

Mass protests against planned mosques in New York City and
Ten­nessee. An Oklahoma referendum to ban Islamic law. A media circus
around a Florida pastor's threat to burn Qur'ans. An upsurge in
homegrown Islamic terrorists. Two U.S.-led wars in predominantly Muslim
countries.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council had no shortage of
topics to discuss at its annual convention in Los Angeles. But the
prospect of congressional hearings on the "radicalization of the
American Muslim community" topped the list.

"There were so many
different responses to it," said Salam al-Marayati, the council's
president, "starting with disbelief that this is happening now."

Some
of the 1,000 Muslim-American attendees at the December meeting wanted
to combat Rep. Peter King, the new GOP chairman of the House Homeland
Security Committee, in the media. Others wanted to consult with
antidiscrimination groups. A team of lawyers recommended that American
Muslims "not take King's bait," al-Marayati recalled.

Now in
control of the House of Representatives, Republicans have pledged to
hold public hearings on everything from the new health-care law to
WikiLeaks. While such hearings often elicit little interest beyond the
Beltway, King's announcement immediately drew suspicion from many
American Muslims.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), the first Muslim
elected to Congress, had sounded the alarm. "It is worthwhile to find
out what turns somebody from a normal citizen into a violent radical,"
he told MSNBC. "But to say that we're only going to do it against this
community, and . . . to change the debate to vilify this community is
very scary and clearly has McCarthyistic implications."

A
nine-term incumbent from Long Island, King has a sharp tongue, little
patience for political correctness and a history of controversial
statements about Muslims.

"There are too many mosques in this
country," King told Politico in 2007. "There are too many people who are
sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more
carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them."

On Fox News
a year ago, King said 85 percent of American mosques are led by
extremists. "This is an enemy living among us," he added.

A number of Muslim scholars and advocates have sharply disputed King's statistics, calling them evidence of bias or ignorance.

"That figure frankly smacks of prejudice against the Mus­lim community," said
Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University in
Washington who recently completed a yearlong study of American Muslims.

Ahmed
said he shares King's concerns about homegrown Islamic terrorism. "But
what concerns me is that these hearings will become a media spectacle,
and that the information given to the American public will not be
correct," Ahmed said. "It will just be a lot of guys giving their
opinion."

King's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the hearings.

To
be sure, a number of government reports and high-ranking officials see
homegrown terrorism as a lethal and growing threat. In the past two
years, 50 Americans have been indicted on terrorism charges, according
to Attorney General Eric Holder.

"The threat has changed from
simply worrying about foreigners coming here, to worrying about . . .
American citizens raised here, born here, and who for whatever reason
have decided they are going to become radicalized and take up arms
against the nation in which they were born," Holder told ABC News in
December.

Two young Muslims were arrested that month on charges of
attempting to detonate deadly bombs in Oregon and Maryland. Daniel
Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and a scholar whose work has
been cited by King but heavily criticized by others, called the upcoming
hearings "an important step."

King has said most Muslims in
America are "hardworking, dedicated Americans." But, he insists, local
and federal law enforcement officials complain that Muslim leaders and
imams refuse to cooperate with their investigations.

The
congressman and al-Marayati disagree on that point. Al-Marayati said
Amer­ican Mus­lims have helped law enforcement officials foil nearly 40
percent of al-Qaeda-related terror plots on U.S. soil since 9/11,
including seven of the last ten, according to an MPAC study of
government records and media reports.

Former Homeland Security
chief Michael Chertoff, FBI director Robert Mueller and a host of other
law enforcement officials have praised Muslim leaders for helping
identify and root out extremists, al-Marayati said.  —RNS