Congressman defends panel on U.S. Muslim community amid national uproar
Peter King refuses to back down over criticism of a congressional committee formed to investigate whether Muslim Americans are aiding authorities to thwart terror acts.
Controversial and emotional hearings started on Tuesday, at the opening of the House Homeland Security committee, titled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community."
It was not the first time the subject was raised in Congress – but the notion that this time "the tone is different" was widespread.
The hearings come after a horrific attack of the army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood base in November 2009; the botched attempt of the bomb attack at the Times Square, plotted by Pakistani immigrant; and even the last year’s dispute over the Islamic center project in lower Manhattan (so called "ground zero mosque") – and the House being regained by the Republicans, with a serious influx of the representatives of the conservative camp.
Committee’s chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), drew fire when he refused to apologize for "singling out" the Muslim community.
In an interview to ABC on Wednesday, he said that "this is where the threat is coming from," saying it "makes no sense at all to be talking about other types of so-called extremism when the major threat to the United States today is coming from al- Qaida, and al-Qaida is attempting to recruit in this country."
"It might be politically correct, but it would so diffuse and water down the hearing that it would serve no purpose," King said, adding that "either you investigate everybody or you investigate nobody."
King suggested as well that the Muslim community leadership in the United States is not doing enough to confront the radicalization and they do not cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.
King quickly turned into a target himself, being reminded that in the past he said IRA is no less moral than the British army, being accused of McCarthyism, racism, and even receiving threats.
The Muslim community leaders voiced suspicion that Congressman King is not trying to find a solution, but rather contribute to the Islamophobia in the United States.
A group of senior national religious leaders, including Rabbi Marc Schneier, gathered today on the Capitol Hill, to protest the hearings and unveil the national interfaith campaign to promote tolerance and to work for an end to anti-Muslim bigotry, called "Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values."
U.S. Administration officials tried to prevent the backlash, saying that the issue is important – but stressing also that the Muslim community is "part of the solution, not the problem."
Rep. King said in his opening remarks that he is well aware of the controversy:
"Some of this opposition has been measured and thoughtful. Other opposition, both from special-interest groups and the media has ranged from disbelief to paroxysms of rage and hysteria," he said.
"Let me make it clear today that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward, and they will. To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee; to protect America from a terrorist attack," King said.
The N.Y. lawmaker added that "There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings. Indeed, congressional investigation of Muslim American radicalization is the logical response to the repeated and urgent warnings which the Obama administration has been making in recent months. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we cannot allow the memory of that tragic day to fade away."
Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, criticized the committee approach to the subject, and cried during his testimony.
"Understanding the roots of domestic terrorism is the legitimate business of the House Homeland Security Committee. I share the chairman's concern about violent extremism," He said.
"[But] we need to conduct a thorough and fair analysis and to do no harm. The approach of today's hearing I fear does not meet these standards. It's true that specific individuals, including some who are Muslims, are violent extremists," Ellison said, adding that, "however, these are individuals, not entire communities."
"Individuals like Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Faisel Shazad, and Nidal Hasan do not represent the Muslim community. When you assign their violent actions to the entire community, you assign collective blame to a whole group," Ellison said.
"This is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating. This is the heart of my testimony today. Ascribing evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community is wrong, it is ineffective and it risks making our country less safe," he added.
Ellison also referring the Ku Klux Klan, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1994, and the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., by the white supremacist James Von Brunn.
"Did Congress focus on the ethnic group or religion of these agents of violence as a matter of public policy? The answer is no," he said, adding that a recent report by the Muslim Public Affairs Council stated that information provided by Muslim Americans has helped to foil seven domestic terror plots and 40 percent of all plots since 9/11.
Yehudit Barsky, Director of Division on Middle East and International Terrorism of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) submitted to the committee a written statement about the homegrown threats targeting the Jewish community.
“It is crucial that this threat be confronted, and the roots of the ideology underlying that threat in a virulent perversion of the Muslim faith, be identified. It is equally crucial that that moderate Muslims who reject Islamic extremist ideology should be recognized as our allies in confronting this threat”, Barsky wrote.
"A recent study by the N.Y. State Intelligence Center cited by Secretary Napolitano indicates that 70 percent of homegrown terrorists were born in the US, and, most significantly, the majority of them based their actions on Islamic extremist ideology." Barsky said.
"Homegrown terrorism has become a dominant trend and poses a significant threat to our security, it is important to understand how Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations seek to promote their ideology to radicalize and recruit Muslims in the U.S.," she said.