King’s hearings could isolate Islamist radicals

A highly-controversial hearing on the radicalisation of Muslims in the US began today. Known as ‘The Extent of Radicalisation in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response’, the opening statement — the first in a series — by the committee’s chairman Peter T King begins by embracing the controversy.

“I am well aware that the announcement of these hearings has generated considerable controversy and opposition,” King said from a prepared statement. “Some of this opposition — such as from my colleague and friend Mr. Ellison 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.”

But King doesn’t seem to be daunted by that hysteria. “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.”

Is this hearing regressive? Is it radical? Not so, King says: “Despite what passes for conventional wisdom in certain circles, there is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings. Indeed, Congressional investigation of Muslim American radicalisation is the logical response to the repeated and urgent warnings which the Obama administration has been making in recent months.”

He is referring to the March 6 speech of Denis McDonough, the Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama. Titled ‘Partnering with Communities to Prevent Violent Extremism in America’, the speech talks about dispelling the myths about misperceptions about US Muslims. But he doesn’t ignore the threat. “For a long time, many in the U.S. thought that our unique melting pot meant we were immune from this threat — this despite the history of violent extremists of all kinds in the US,” he said. “That was false hope, and false comfort. This threat is real, and it is serious.”

He elaborates the threat: “How do we know this? Well, al Qaeda tells us. They’re not subtle. They make videos, create Internet forums, even publish online magazines, all for the expressed purpose of trying to convince Muslim Americans to reject their country and attack their fellow Americans.”

King has taken selections from McDonough’s speech and turned it around. “al Qaeda and its adherents have increasingly turned to another troubling tactic: attempting to recruit and radicalise people to terrorism here in the United States… For a long time, many in the U.S. thought that we were immune from this threat. That was false hope, and false comfort. This threat is real, and it is serious… (Al Qaeda does this) for the expressed purpose of trying to convince Muslim Americans to reject their country and attack their fellow Americans.”

King also quotes the US attorney general Holder on “the growing number of young Americans being radicalised and willing to take up arms against our country ‘keeps him awake at night’.”

His relentless assault of arguments goes on. “I have repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country. But there are realities we cannot ignore. For instance a Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community al Qaeda is attempting to recruit.”

Quoting from Violent Islamist Extremism and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat, a report by the Majority and Minority staff of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, he lays the road ahead too. “Muslim community leaders (and) religious leaders must play a more visible role in discrediting and providing alternatives to violent Islamist ideology.”

Post September 11, the entry of terrorists into the US has fallen. The new threat to the country is that Al Qaeda is recruiting from within the country. These, according to King, include among many others, the “Mumbai Plotter David Headley”.

Critiques have begun to fly in from liberal Americans. “King’s Hearings Worth a Tweet, not a Speech,” writes Lisa Sharaon Harper in Huffington Post.

“Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday warned against alienating the US Muslim community, in a veiled criticism of a congressional probe into the radicalisation of Muslims at home,” Reuters reported.

“There is no question that the predominant terrorism threat facing the United States is al Qaeda-inspired terrorism based on a corrupted interpretation of Islam. Because of this, it may seem obvious for counterterrorism efforts to narrow their focus on Muslims and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. If it were only that simple,” Lydia Khalil wrote in the New York Times.

Caught in the crossfire are two large entities. The first is an entire philosophy and belief system, a faith of US liberalism. If the hearings themselves turn radical, these will be at risk.

The second is US Muslims, who will now perhaps have to defend their faith. On this front, however, I see a little window of opportunity, the chance of an entire community being able to communicate the one stark fact — all Muslims are not terrorists.

If that message is successfully transmitted through these hearings, they could help isolate the radicals in the religion. Else, be prepared for further segregation and the resultant backlash.

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