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McCarthyism Revisited: Peter King’s Modern-day Witch Hunt

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) claimed Thursday as he launched his McCarthyite probe of American Muslims. He could not have been more wrong. If King is looking for threats to our freedoms and values, a mirror would be the place to start.

Here’s why. Imagine a young man, a Muslim, who changes in troubling ways. His two best friends become concerned, then alarmed, as the young man abandons Western dress, displays a newfound religiosity and begins to echo jihadist rhetoric about the decadence of American society. Both friends suspect that the young man has become radicalized and might even attempt some kind of terrorist attack.

One friend is Muslim, the other Christian. Does the Muslim friend have a greater responsibility than the Christian to contact the authorities? By the logic of King’s witch hunt, he does.

The Homeland Security Committee hearings that King has convened are billed as an inquiry into “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” In other words, King suspects that the Muslim community is somehow complicit. Individuals of one faith are implicated; individuals of another faith are not.

As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims in Congress, said in his moving testimony, King’s premise assigns “collective blame” to American Muslims. “Demanding a community response . . . asserts that the entire community bears responsibility,” Ellison said.

In his pugnacious opening statement, King noted that his plan to hold these hearings had been criticized by “special-interest groups and the media,” which he said had gone into “paroxysms of rage and hysteria” at the prospect. “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness,” he said. In case someone missed the point, King later said it was our duty to “put aside political correctness and define who our enemy truly is.”

King asserted that “this committee cannot live in denial.” He then went straight there – into denial – by paying no heed to the witness best situated to answer the committee’s question.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca testified in opposition to King’s premise, citing figures demonstrating that radical, extremist acts of crime are committed by non-Muslims as well, and that seven of the past 10 known terrorist plots involving al-Qaeda have been foiled in part by information provided by Muslim Americans. Baca said his officers have good, productive relationships with Muslim leaders and citizens. Law enforcement officials from other jurisdictions where there are large Muslim communities could have given similar testimony, had they been invited.

King is trying to peddle the hooey that moderate Muslims do not speak out against extremism. It took Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) to note the irony that among the committee’s witnesses were two devout Muslims – one Syrian American, the other Somali American – who were there to speak out, quite loudly, against extremism.

King, in effect, was demanding to know why he didn’t see what was taking place before his eyes. Perhaps he was distracted by the need to maintain constant vigilance for any hint of political correctness.

That’s really what King’s grandstanding is all about. The purpose of these hearings isn’t to gather information. If it were, officials of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would have been asked to testify. In addition to inviting Minneapolis-based Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American whose nephew was recruited by the terrorist organization al-Shabab, King could have brought in police from the Twin Cities to testify about cooperation by the Somali immigrant community.

King’s intent is theatrical, not substantive; he’s not trying to elicit facts, he’s inviting catcalls – and cheers.

It should not be so, but Islamophobia is a powerful force in American politics. There are those who will applaud King for associating the phrase “American Muslim community” with the phrase “who our enemy truly is.”

But decency is a powerful force, too. The hearing’s indelible moment came when Ellison broke down in tears. He was telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a young Muslim who rushed into the World Trade Center to try to rescue victims just before the towers collapsed. His remains were found in the rubble.

Hamdani was not just a Muslim, Ellison said, fighting to choke out words that no one could dismiss as politically correct. He was “an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”

By: Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed Columnist, The Washington Post, March 10, 2011

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Congress, Democracy, GOP, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Justice, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Are Peter King’s Hearings So Loathsome? Let Us Count The Ways

Some people seem to have great difficulty in understanding why U.S. Rep. Peter King’s hearings on radicalization of American Muslims, set to open this Thursday, are seen as so loathsome by so many. Let me try to explain.

Imagine, for starters, if another congressman — say, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress — decided to hold hearings on the Christian fundamentalist community and the radicalization of some of its members. After all, it is undeniably fundamentalists who have formed the bulk of the extremists who have burned or bombed hundreds of abortion clinics and murdered eight providers or their assistants. The vast majority of these people have been motivated, as most have said themselves, by their interpretations of Christianity.

Well, I think you can see where this is going. You wouldn’t have time to snap your fingers before outraged Americans, metaphorically speaking, surrounded the Capitol carrying pitchforks and torches, demanding the heads of their representatives. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, to mention just a couple of the far-right talking heads, would erupt before their Fox News audiences. After all, just think back to the self-righteous hullabaloo that broke out when a leaked 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on the radical right suggested that hate groups were interested in recruiting returning veterans with military skills. Conservatives around the country went into outrage mode, shouting to the skies that the perfectly accurate report was calling all veterans potential Timothy McVeighs. The political right is the first to scream “demonization” when it feels it is being targeted.

There’s another very good reason why the hearings organized by King, a Republican from New York who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, amount to what an editorial in today’s New York Times called “Mr. King’s show trial.” Peter King does not come to the question of radical Islam with clean hands.

This is a man who has said that 80% to 85% of American mosques are run by extremists — jihadists — and who told a reporter that “unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country.” He says that Al Qaeda is aggressively recruiting Muslims in this country. Last month, he was the first guest on a cable television show hosted by Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the aggressively anti-Muslim ACT! for America group and one of the more obnoxious Muslim-bashers around (the Times reported Monday that she claims radical Muslims have “infiltrated” the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and more). He claims that the vast majority of American Muslims and their leaders have refused to cooperate with law enforcement investigations of jihadists — but then says he can’t reveal his law enforcement sources.

In fact, like virtually all King’s claims, that last is baloney. As a study last month from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security revealed, 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks in the United States since 9/11 were turned in by fellow Muslims. What’s more, leaders of virtually all responsible law enforcement groups report that most Muslims are highly cooperative.

King is holding his version of the McCarthy hearings at a time when extremist groups in the United States — hate groups, antigovernment “Patriot” zealots and extremist vigilante organizations — are expanding dramatically. Just last month, a new Southern Poverty Law Center report showed that the number of three strands of the radical right went from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 last year. In January, authorities arrested a neo-Nazi apparently planning a bomb attack on the Arizona border; found a powerful bomb set to explode by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade; and seized a man apparently about to bomb a Michigan mosque. And  just last week, a large group of Muslim-haters screamed a litany of insults against Muslims at a California fundraisers, terrifying their cowering children, as can be seen in video of the event.

But King has no interest in these threats. To him, Islam is the enemy.

The reality is that King’s hearing are about demonizing Muslims, and they are, unfortunately, very likely to accomplish that goal. After all, they come in the midst of a renewed bout of Islamophobia — a round of hatred and fear that began last summer when other opportunistic politicians ginned up alarm about the Islamic center planned for lower Manhattan. They follow by just a few months the adoption of an absurd Oklahoma law designed to prevent the introduction of Islamic religious law in the state’s courts — a law that is now being emulated elsewhere.

Ultimately, this kind of demonization leads to violence against the targeted minorities. President George W. Bush understood that, and that is why, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he gave a number of speeches saying that Muslims and Arabs were not our enemies — Al Qaeda was. As a result, anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had spiked up an astounding 1,700% after the attack, dropped by two thirds the following year. Bush may have made many mistakes as a president, but he clearly understood that demonizing minorities ultimately leads to violence.

Words have consequences — unfortunately, even Peter King’s.

By: Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center, March 8, 2011

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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