The US House Homeland Security Committee hearing on radicalization of American Muslims burned up C-Span for four long hours. Some of the reporting has called it a "witch hunt", and at the hearing many, if not most, of the Democrats on the Committee used their five minutes question time each to assail the decision to hold the hearing and to demand hearings instead on other kinds of terrorist threats, such as the KKK. That kind of tendentious objection flavored many of the news stories as well.
The controversy, for some, is not properly the subject of how some young people in this country are radicalized and join Islamist terror groups. No, our concern should rather be whether having a hearing on that subject is politically correct.
The first problem facing the critics, however, was the presence of a panel of experts who in varying ways were all concerned with the reality of radicalization. The perpetually eruptive Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee thought it "ironic" to say that Muslims were not concerned enough about terrorism, when the panel itself, she noted, included Muslims who are concerned. It was ironic, all right, though not in the way the Gentlelady from Houston thought. Two panelists were Muslim, but they were there in eloquent agreement with the contention of Rep. Peter King, Committee Chairman that more needs to be done to counter subversive activities by agents of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yet instead of listening to what they and the rest of the panel had to say, the critics tried to tag the hearing as "McCarthyite." McCarthyism is calling someone a communist who isn't. This situation is not even vaguely analogous. Rep. King repeatedly made clear that the subject was not Islam or Muslims in general. What bothers him--and should bother him--are propaganda attempts to persuade young Muslims to become terrorists and the failure of some Muslims and the government to try to respond adequately to this problem.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy described the fear that some Muslims have in reporting radicalization schemes. He fully acknowledged--as Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca stated from his law enforcement experience--that many terror plots are reported quietly by ordinary Muslim Americans. That's great, and as it should be. What Jasser wants, in addition, however, are more private and government resources to help groups like his to perform proactive outreach to Muslim youth, many of whom don't understand American democratic institutions. (In that, they are not much different from many other American youth, of course, since American government courses are slighted in many communities).
When it comes to public attention, Dr. Jasser stated, the politicians and the media pay too much attention to groups like CAIR (Committee on American Islamic Relations) that almost always take issue with American policy on terrorism. "Don't let just the revivalists get the mic, but also the reformists," he warned.
That seems entirely sound, it seems to me. I heard a New York Times columnist reveal recently that she gets many statements from Muslim groups that oppose terrorism, but doesn't think their views are unusual enough to report. But maybe she should be reporting them. What does get covered are the Muslim groups that battle US policy.. That is the kind of mistake Dr. Jasser is pointing out.
Dr. Jasser noted that only a tiny minority of Muslims in the US affiliate with groups like CAIR, yet those groups purport to speak for Muslims as a whole. Indeed, not all Americans of Muslim background, said Jasser, attend mosques. Letting CAIR speak for them all actually leads the general public to form a negative view of their fellow Americans who are Muslims.
Noticeably, none of the Congressional and media critics of the hearing bothered to follow up on Jasser's observation. If they really cared about protecting a good opinion of Muslims, they would have taken his appeal to heart.
Two Democratic Congress members instead challenged the "expertise" of Dr. Jasser and the other panelists. But Melvin Bledsoe, an African American panel member from Memphis, returned the favor by questioning the expertise of the Congressmen. (It was a rare moment of comic relief.) What was clear to any fair-minded viewer was that Bledsoe spoke from experience; that was his expertise. He has a son who converted to Islam, went into terror training in Yemen, came back and attacked a US military recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, killing one serviceman. Bledsoe wanted to impress upon Congress that parents often lose their children to radicalization without even realizing it. The process is slow, he says, and no one step seems extreme at first. Nowhere in our society are inoculated against Islamist indoctrination.
Abdiriza Bihi, of Minneapolis, a leader of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, sounded a similar theme. His nephew was radicalized, became a terrorist and ultimately died. Mr. Bihi pointed out the reality that there are intentional Islamist radical recruiters who seek out bright students from fatherless homes, much the way street gangs do. Again, parents and the community need positive educational programs to prevent youth like his nephew from being radicalized.
Sheriff Baca, whose presence had been requested by the committee's Democrats, bristled when one Republican Congressman tried to suggest that he should distance himself from CAIR--even though he said he had had good relations with the group's chapter in LA. Fair enough. But earlier he also made the statement that in working with Muslims in Los Angeles--and he has a special staff tasked with that responsibility--he has found that many young Muslims who claim to be knowledgeable about the Koran have never read it. Baca has read it and he his staff try to straighten youth out who want to employ the Koran inappropriately. Obviously, we need more programs like those Sheriff Baca has developed. In no way was Sheriff Baca trying to minimize the problem; on the contrary, he had useful suggestions.
Rep. Peter King, despite repeated provocations, was professional and fair throughout the hearing. He was accused of saying that there are "too many mosques in America," when what he said--and believes--is that there are too many mosques where the imams fail to address the danger of radicalization. Past cases of the KKK atrocities and the Japanese-Americans' internment in World War II were invoked (strangely) as reasons not to have a hearing on attempts to radicalize Muslim youth. Then there was Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota's tearful attempt to characterize the hearings as an attack on Islam, per se.
Yes, there is prejudice against Muslims among some people in America, and it must be rebuffed. But the best way of dealing with it is to show how Muslims can and do combat radicals in their midst. To deny that such radicals exist, however, is naive and irresponsible. It also undercuts the American patriots who are Muslim and are resisting the jihadist/Islamists.
I know at least one brave Somali-American soldier who volunteered for the most dangerous combat today, defusing IEDs in Iraq and then Afghanistan. He is a devout Muslim who vehemently opposes the radicals. He has put his life on the line for America and for the honor of his family and his faith. To me he has a lot more credibility than CAIR.
My conclusion: the only deplorable thing about Peter King's hearing were the attempts to misrepresent and sabotage it.