National Security:The King’s (Islamophobic) Speech

House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King‘s (R-NY) hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response” will take place Wednesday. King’s public statements have revealed a deeply Islamophobic and paranoid streak in his thinking, and his list of proposed witnesses has shown a brazen anti-Islamic slant. But under increasing pressure from activists and organizations in the Muslim American community and elsewhere, as well as from progressive outlets and even from his own fellow representatives, King’s grandiose vision for the hearings is coming apart at the seams. By his own admission, no member of law enforcement is willing to publicly substantiate King’s claim that Muslim American communities do not sufficiently cooperate with law enforcement. King has split the hearings into panels of witnesses, one of which will include members of Congress. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is a Muslim, will be included in the latter. Meanwhile, King has avoided the spotlight in recent weeks, in contrast to his earlier public promotion of the hearings, and has been keeping quiet about both the list of witnesses and the specific questions that will be asked.

THE KING’S MYTHS: King has repeated the demonstrably spurious assertion that “80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams.” Media Matters for America traced this claim back to an unsubstantiated statement by California cleric Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, concluding the claim “has been repeated by conservatives and anti-Islam activists for more than 10 years, despite a complete lack of evidence to back it up, and Kabbani’s admission that his criteria for extremism was ‘a focus on the Palestinian struggle.'” King has also called Muslims “an enemy living amongst us” and declared that “there are too many mosques in this country.” On the latter point, a study carried out by professors at Duke University and the University of North Carolina determined that “contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism.” As for the charge that Muslim Americans do not sufficiently cooperate with law enforcement, ThinkProgress, The New York Times, and CNN have reported on multiple studies that contradict this assertion. Work by the Muslim Public Affairs Council — cited by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund — concluded that “about a third of all foiled al-Qaida-related plots in the U.S. relied on support or information provided by members of the Muslim community.” A study by Duke University and the University of North Carolina found that contemporary mosques in the United States serve as a pro-active deterrent to radicalism, and that “many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring antiviolence forums and scrutinizing teachers and texts.” As for the notion the Muslim Americans do not sufficiently denounce terrorism, David Schanzer, co-author of the Duke study, has emphasized that many Muslim American organizations have consistently and repeatedly denounced terrorism in the name of their religion, but this fact simply fails to make it into the mainstream press.

THE KING’S PANEL: Ayann Hirsi Ali, a Dutch critic of Islam working at the American Enterprise Institute, was one of the most prominent possible witnesses to be dropped from King’s list. Among other notable statements, Ali has suggested amending the Constitution to give fewer rights to Muslims, has described Islam as “a cult,” asserted that “there is no moderate Islam,” and claimed that “we are at war with Islam .” Another prominent witness to be dropped from King’s list was Walid Phares, who is on the Clarion Fund advisory board. The Clarion Fund is most well known for producing several documentaries which presented the United States as caught in a civilizational conflict with Islam, and Phares himself is “a former official with the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia” which was implicated by Israel’s official Kahan inquiry in the 1982 massacre of Lebanese civilians. The inclusion and subsequent abandonment of Ali and Phares is also noteworthy given that King claimed he would rely on Muslims themselves to detail the supposed extent of radicalization within the community, but Ali is an atheist and Phares is a Maronite Christian. Other even more egregious witnesses apparently never even made it as far. “King told Politico that he’s not planning to call as witnesses such Muslim community critics as the Investigative Project’s Steve Emerson and Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer, who have large followings among conservatives but are viewed as antagonists by many Muslims.” The only witness which King has now identified as attending the hearing is Zuhdi Jasser, who runs the nonprofit group American Islamic Forum for Democracy. On the practical level, Jasser has served as a moderate spokesperson and comrade for blatantly Islamophobic organizations, including the Clarion Fund, whose documentaries he narrated. Daniel Pipes, the Middle East Forum director who has written extensively on the threat posed by radical Islamists, summed up the situation in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “Unfortunately, Rep. Peter King has proven himself unsuited for this important task, as shown by the gratuitous controversy he has generated over the mere selection of witnesses.”

THE PUSHBACK AGAINST KING: In contrast to the unwillingness of law enforcement to substantiate King, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder have praised the Muslim-American community for its cooperation. “The cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats. We must never lose sight of this,” Holder said. And Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles, a member of the Major City Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association or the National Sheriffs Association, has publicly stated that he has not heard any complaints of Muslim noncooperation from these organizations. Meanwhile, work by the Council on American Islamic Relations was instrumental in removing Walid Phares from the witness list. Faith leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu congregations in King’s own district have sent a letter expressing their concern that his hearings “only further divide our community and undermine our nation’s highest ideals.” Over 100 religious leaders in California have signed a letter asking King to cancel the hearings, and even King’s fellow congressmen have risen in opposition: Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) wrote an op-ed recalling the lessons of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and said, “Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. By framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion.”

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