Congressman Peter King, who has rationalised his past defence of IRA terrorism without a hint of self-awareness or irony, is now the self-appointed protector of America from future terrorist attacks by holding a congressional hearing on the “Extent of Radicalisation in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” King presiding over this hearing would be like asking Mel Gibson to chair an impartial session on Jewish American loyalties. King has in the past claimed there are “too many mosques” in America and that 85% of American mosques and its religious leaders are radicalised, a statement that has been thoroughly discredited.
Despite a recent study showing that 40% of all extremist plots in America were thwarted as a result of Muslim American help, King ignores this evidence and stubbornly asserts there is a “lack of cooperation” by Muslims with law enforcement. The intent, scope and framing of King’s hearing have been criticised by law enforcement officials, counter-terrorism professionals, civil rights organisations, interfaith leaders and political commentators as being misguided, ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Undeniably, violent extremism poses a threat to America, and a few radicalised Muslims have committed or attempted to commit acts of violence. Evidence includes Nidal Hasan Malik, who shot 13 soldiers last year, and Faisal Shaizad, the failed Times Square bomber in New York. However, the majority of terror plots in America since 9/11 has been committed by non-Muslims, especially rightwing extremists and white supremacists. Examples include the failed Martin Luther King parade bomber in Washington state; Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona shooter who killed six people, including a judge, and Joseph Stack who flew his plane into an IRS building last year. In fact, a near-record 1,000 hate groups currently exist in America, and, as the Southern Poverty Law Centre reports, most are a result of “radical rightwing expansion, represented by hatemongers, the nativists and the antigovernment zealots”.
So, why is King’s focus solely on Muslim Americans, especially when Muslim American terrorism and involvement in extremism has significantly decreased, according to a recent Duke University study?
Unfortunately, history has shown that some people would sacrifice the rights of minorities for the illusion of feeling safe, as witnessed when innocent Japanese Americans were interned in camps during the second world war and viewed as a subversive fifth column, purely on account of their ethnicity. At a time when 60% of Americans don’t know a Muslim and nearly 50% hold a negative view of Islam, it is unsurprising that 52% of Americans are comfortable with King’s hearing being focused solely on Muslims.
As a Muslim American, and a member of America’s most diverse religious group, I can testify that we are not a monolithic entity who share a collective consciousness and are automatically alerted to the perverse inclinations of all radicalised loners. Furthermore, Muslim Americans do not have specialised knowledge or heightened awareness of extremist threats – just as Italian Americans do not have innate knowledge of the Mafia’s criminal operations. Perhaps King should invite the cast of Jersey Shore and the Sopranos to field that inquiry.
This type of profiling is inherently dangerous and is actually ineffective as counter-terrorism policy, according to a report from the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission this past fall. The point was forcefully echoed at the opening day of King’s hearing on Thursday by Los Angeles County’s Sheriff Lee Baca, the only law enforcement expert among those who testified. Baca rejected King’s claim that Muslim Americans did not cooperate with law enforcement, citing his experience with the Muslim community in LA as “an active participant in the securing of our homeland”.
As his star witness, King invited the credential-free Dr Zudhi Jasser, who wears the honourable badge of being “Glenn Beck’s favourite Muslim”. Jasser, unknown to mainstream Muslim communities, once anecdotally claimed that 3-5% of US Muslims are militant and nearly 40% do not approve the principle of the separation of church [sic] and state. Jasser also narrated the notorious “Third Jihad” video, produced by the clandestine and ultra-rightwing Clarion Fund and briefly used to train NYPD officers on counter-terrorism. After seeing the video, an NYPD officer remarked, “It was so ridiculously one-sided. It just made Muslims look like the enemy. It was straight propaganda.”
King’s other witnesses, both non experts, recounted tragic tales of their family members being lured and corrupted by jihadists. One could assume from their testimony that religiosity might promote extremism, but the recent MAPOS study found “that mosques and religiosity are actually associated with high levels of civic engagement and support for the American political system.”
Perhaps the most moving and eloquent testimony was delivered by Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to US Congress, whose Islamic faith, says the recently elected Tea Party-backed Congressman Allen West, is “the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established”. Ellison shed tears as he related the story of 23-year-old Muhammad Hamdani, a 9/11 first responder, who sacrificed his life to save others that day.
Hamdani was a Muslim. He was an American. He is a hero. Perhaps King can turn the page, and write a new chapter featuring Muslim Americans not as protagonists in fantasies of subversion, but as the honourable, loyal and helpful citizens we are.