2-9-2011By Raha Wala
Georgetown Fellow, Law and Security
The pressure continues to mount on Representative Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, to cancel his proposed hearings on “radicalization” within the American Muslim community. A growing chorus of critics have correctly recognized these proposed hearings for what they are: counterproductive and inconsistent with American values. Indeed, If America stands for one thing, it stands for unity in the face of attempts to divide people, whether by race, religion, or ethnicity. At times in American history that principle has been shaken—as was the case with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—but ultimately discrimination is never in the national interest, and today’s counterterrorism policies are no exception. As John Brennan, chief counterterrorism adviser to the President, has emphasized:
“Describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie—propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism—that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we never have been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America….Our enemy is al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. For it was al Qaeda who attacked us so viciously on 9/11 and whose desire to attack the United States, our allies, and our partners remains undiminished.”
Moreover, a single-minded focus on the American Muslim community, or Islam in general, is counterproductive. Brian Fishman, a researcher at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, warns that Anti-Muslim rhetoric feeds into the messages of al Qaeda propagandists like Anwar al-Awlaki, who try to recruit terrorists by advancing claims that American Muslims face a dark future of ever-worsening discrimination and vilification. Major General Paul Eaton, U.S. Army (Ret.), explained how Anti-Muslim rhetoric is harmful to the military’s objectives: “It is a slap in the face to a great many people we wish to have as allies. We are trying to make allies of our colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan and this is not helpful.”
Beyond the deleterious effects on national security, Representative King’s proposed hearings are based on the false premise that communities should be held responsible for the actions of individuals. Last week, more than 50 interfaith, human rights, Muslim advocacy, and national security-oriented organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders warning that the series of hearings proposed by Representative King “harkens back to hearings held in the 1950s by then-U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy”—a reference to McCarthy’s infamous inquiries into what he erroneously believed was the infiltration of communist elements at all levels of society.
The analogy is apt. Representative King has suggested, without presenting any credible evidence, that the American Muslim community has been infiltrated, claiming that “80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams.” Aside from the fact that there is simply no truth to this claim, experts actually believe that the kinds of programs promoted in most American mosques discourage militant Islam and terrorism.
Representative King further claims—again, without a shred of evidence—that the American Muslim community is not cooperating with law enforcement. He maintains these wild accusations despite repeated, vocal statements to the contrary from law enforcement officials across the country. Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that “the cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats.” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca recently stated: “We have as much cooperation as we are capable of acquiring through public trust relationships [with the American Muslim community].” Sheriff Baca, co-chair of the Major City Chiefs Association, says he has no knowledge of what or who Representative King has been basing his claims on, but has invited King to travel to Los Angeles to witness the way law enforcement engages with local communities. However, despite King’s overblown rhetoric, he does not intend to call law enforcement or counterterrorism officials as witnesses in his hearings.
Attempts to help refocus King’s hearings on the facts—on the real threats posed by terrorism—have largely been ignored by Representative King. Ranking Member of the HHSC Bennie Thompson wrote to Representative King urging that the hearings be expanded to examine all forms of terrorism. So far Representative King won’t budge; he insists that radical Islam is the problem and says he won’t allow “political correctness” to deter him from moving forward with these hearings.
Representative King, as Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has a significant responsibility in ensuring that the U.S. government vigorously seeks to prevent and deter terrorist attacks. But this is not done by targeting any one community, it is done by focusing on criminal behavior, which knows no race, ethnicity, or religion. In the long-run, efforts to combat terrorism can only succeed by upholding human rights and the rule of law, and making clear that the United States practices what it preaches.