Talk Against Talk: Demonization of Rep. King’s Hearings on Domestic Muslim Radicalization
March 17, 2011 11 Comments
It is fully consistent to respect Islam and inquire about Islamist radicalization in America. To suggest otherwise — to suggest that inquiry into Islamist radicalization promotes discrimination, or Islamophobia — itself foments suspicion, furthers mistrust, and guarantees a space for Islamist radicalization.
Yet where there should be a dialogue, where there should be an open inquiry, there is bizarre partisan warfare.
Last Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
Witnesses included M. Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder, American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Abdirizak Bihi, Director, Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center; Melvin Bledsoe (father of a radicalized son); and (by written testimony only) Sheriff Leroy Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Chairman King noted that he had said “repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country.” Some of his past statements have been less temperate. To suggest that a man who has been intemperate cannot nevertheless do the right thing is to say that a man who said, “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” cannot nevertheless deliver a beautiful speech in Tucson. While we’re expecting the worst, our politicians often do better than expected.
But the Democrats, on this issue, appear to have encamped around the proposition that any (Republican) inquiry into Islamist radicalization and recruitment is “Islamophobia” — at least unless it includes inquiry into all manner of other extremism.
- Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) urged the Chairman “to hold a hearing examining the homeland security threat posed by anti-government and white supremacist groups.” “I cannot help but wonder how propaganda about this hearing … will be used to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers,” said Thompson.
- “The narrow scope of this hearing is discriminatory,” said California congresswoman Laura Richardson.
- “We are seeing a very skewed discussion,” Californian congresswoman Jackie Speier said. “We should also be investigating the Army of God and their website, in which they openly praise Christian terrorists, as part of an effort to look at homegrown terrorism in this country.”
- “This hearing today is playing into al Qaeda right now around the world,” Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said. “It is diminishing soldiers along the front lines that are Muslim. And it is going the same route as Arizona and other states.”
It is doubtful that the hearing “played into al Qaeda right now around the world,” because it is doubtful that a hearing that featured most prominently America’s first Muslim congressman, Ralph Ellison (D. Minn.), and his condemnation of the hearing itself and anti-Muslim sentiment in America, would play well to the anti-American jihadists abroad. But even if it did, that simply confirms that no matter what we do, it will be distorted by anti-American jihadists, and so it’s best to keep doing what we do best, and that’s having the conversations of democracy.
Apart from brazen pandering, it is not necessary in every conversation to talk about every other form of extremism when you wish to focus on the one that has done the most damage. Nor would it be appropriate in the aftermath of any other form of extremist terrorist act for Congress to ignore its origins — as indeed the Senate conducted hearings on radical militias in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Why are Democrats now hostile to talking about domestic Islamist extremism? I get why Democrats don’t want to encourage anti-Muslim sentiment. That’s honorable. But when the purpose of a hearing includes a platform for Democrats — and Muslims — to condemn anti-Muslim sentiment, why the hostility?
And why the politicized hostility when the Senate has held multiple hearings on domestic Islamist radicalization for several years — without comment? Where was Sheila Jackson Lee condemning the multiple Senate hearings for “playing into Al-Qaeda right now around the world?” Democrats can convene a congressional hearing about domestic Islamist radicalization — but Republicans cannot?
This is a conversation we urgently need to have. Chairman King’s hearing was a balanced effort at promoting that conversation. To scream that it is “Islamophobic” plays directly into the hands of those who would laugh at our democratic traditions and kill us. They do not wish us to have a conversation, because they know that conversation, and the understanding that follows from it, binds us together as Americans and makes us stronger.