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House Begins Hearings on Domestic Radicalization of Muslims

On March 10, Representative Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, opened a series of hearings exploring, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim community and That Community’s Response.” The wisdom of holding these hearings was the subject of much debate in the days preceding. Congressional Democrats, including John Dingell (D-MI) who represents a large Muslim community, warned that the hearings should not question the loyalty of Muslims or Arabs as a group. In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder warned, “We don’t want to stigmatize, we don’t want to alienate entire communities.”

However, Representative King refused to back down, stating, “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the man responsibility of this committee—to protect America from a terrorist attack.” Representative King cited Attorney General Holder in his statement opening the hearings, noting that Mr. Holder said the number of young Americans being radicalized, “keeps him awake at night.” Representative King also noted that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said the threat to the United States is as high as it has been since September 11, 2001 because of increased levels of radicalization within the U.S. Representative King closed his statement by recalling the days following the September 11th attacks, urging people not to, “allow the memories of that tragic day fade away.”

The hearing itself was more political theater than substantive hearing. Melvin Bledsoe, the father of Carlos Bledsoe, testified about his son’s conversion to Islam and radicalization which culminated in Carlos shooting up a U.S. military recruiting station in Arkansas, killing one soldier. Abdirizak Bihi, the uncle of a Minnesota man who was radicalized and encouraged to fight in a Somali militia, also described how the process of radicalization led to his nephew’s death. For a more complete record of the testimony given, check out the

However, the majority of the Committee’s time was spent arguing over whether it was proper to hold these hearings at all. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), himself a Muslim, recounted the story of Mohammad Hamdani, a Muslim first responder who died in the September 11th attacks. Representative Ellison told of how Mr. Hamdani was suspected of a connection to the attacks until his remains were found and said that Hamdani, “gave his life for other Americans.” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) criticized the hearings as, “a way to demonize and castigate,” American Muslims. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) warned that extremists could use the hearings as propaganda to inspire young people to their cause.

The Economist criticized Representative King for having a “conveniently elastic” attitude toward terrorism. The magazine noted that King, an Irish-Catholic, held strong sympathies with the Irish Republican Army during the 1980s, even going as far as comparing Gerry Adams to George Washington. The article also noted a Triangle Centre on Terrorism study which indicated that 48 of the 120 Muslims who have been suspected of plotting terrorist attacks since 2001 were turned in by other Muslims. However, the article also noted that high ranking Al-Qaeda members, such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Adnan Shukrijumah are U.S. citizens who grew up in New Mexico and New York respectively.

It is important to note that these hearings are not the first of their kind. Senator Joe Liberman (I-CT) and former Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), held several hearings on extremism and its threat to the U.S. However, the difference between those hearings and those led by Representative King is that they did not specifically focus on the threat from Muslims in the U.S.

These hearings raise serious concerns about national security as well as a host of personal freedoms, including freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. The manner in which the U.S. counters the continuing domestic threat from Al-Qaeda impacts both the rights and safety of its citizens as well as its international credibility in leading the fight against terrorism.

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