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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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March 12, 2011

Peter King’s hearings stoke Islamophobia

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

In Fairbanks, Alaska, five people were arrested on March 10 by state and federal law enforcement on charges connected with a plot to kidnap or kill state troopers and a Fairbanks judge. Tellingly, the arrest of the Fairbanks-based Alaska Peacekeeper's Militia leaders happened the day when Rep. Peter King, head of the congressional Homeland Security Committee held a controversial hearing on what he calls the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community. 

King, who once supported the IRA terrorists - refused calls to broaden the hearing to examine any non-Muslim groups or right-wing militias such as Alaska Peacekeeper’s militia whose leader, Francis "Schaeffer" Cox, last month unveiled his "241" (two for one) plan which called for his militia to respond to attempts to arrest or kill him by responding against state court or law enforcement targets with twice the force and consequences as happened to him or his family," according to the criminal complaint.

A few members of Congress, including the former Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., had denounced King’s plans for targeting the seven-million-strong American Muslim community. After the shooting in Arizona last January that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) injured and six dead, the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Bennie Thompson called for King to expand his focus. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is not Muslim.

King did not invite any federal law enforcement officials to testify on the nature and extent of the threat that he was examining. He also did not invite the leaders of any of the country's large Muslim organizations. Instead, the hearing included testimony from the families of two young men who blame the Islamic community for recruiting them to terrorism, as well as a Muslim Arizona doctor Zuhdi Jasser, who is the founder and President of probably one-man non-profit organization, American Islamic Forum on Democracy. He is critical of leading Muslim American organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that was target of the hearings. Peter King negatively mentioned CAIR more than 50 times during the four-hour session. It was not surprisingly because, in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been attempt to shut down or silence American Muslim institutions such as major charity organizations as well as prominent American Muslim civil advocacy groups.

The CAIR is the largest vocal Muslim civil liberties organization, modeled on the Jewish Anti Defamation League (ADL), that has made it a target for criticism. Not surprisingly, it was named as an "unindicted co-conspirator " in the case of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF) – one of the largest American Muslim charity that in 2008 was convicted of funding Hamas militant group. In its prosecution of the HLF, the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of publicly filing a list naming 246 individuals and organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators.” Besides CAIR, the list included the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), America’s largest mainstream Muslim community-based organization and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the country's largest holding company of deeds to about 300 mosques, Islamic centers and schools in the U.S.

By branding these individuals and organizations with the “terrorism” label, the government unfairly and irreparably damaged the reputation of mainstream Muslim organizations and many of the named individuals. The prosecution used McCarthyite tactics by implicating mainstream Muslim groups to silence genuine Muslim voices while providing ammunition to the anti-Muslim organizations. This was a brutal attempt to marginalize and disenfranchise mainstream Muslim groups.

The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, a coalition of Muslim groups, announced in March 2009 that it believed the FBI’s decision to sever ties with CAIR pending the resolution of unspecified “issues” stemmed from the designation of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator. Not surprisingly, Rep. King thanked the FBI Director Mueller for ordering the FBI to cease all dealings and contact with CAIR.

In a broadside on CAIR, King said in his opening remarks: “Responsible Muslim-American leaders must reject discredited groups such as CAIR - The Council on American-Islamic Relations which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist financing case involving the Holyland Foundation.”

The hearings - with photos of the burning World Trade Center and the Pentagon on display - failed to prove Peter King's two central arguments: that Muslims are not cooperating with law enforcement and that there is a widespread problem of radicalization within Muslim American communities.  Congressperson after congressperson came forward criticizing the hearings. The only law enforcement officer who appeared as a witness, Orange County Sheriff, Lee Baca,  testified essentially against King’s fear mongering.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, believes that what is truly radical is profiling and demonizing entire communities of people based on their faith. “This mindset flies in the face of the values we stand for as Americans. Radicalization and homegrown terrorism are serious and legitimate concerns that deserve thoughtful examination, not an ideologically motivated charade. Hearings driven by intolerance inflame anti-American sentiment.”

According to Judy Chu, Democrat Congresswoman from Los Angeles, the committee's witch hunt for Muslim radicals will do little to make our nation safer. “That's because it chose to target Muslims without evidence that there is a legitimate threat. The result is a conviction in the trial of the public arena, giving some in our society a chance to deepen their prejudices against Muslims.”

She recalled that the words "national security" were used to send 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps in desolate parts of the country, causing them to lose everything they had. “They were convicted in the trial of the public arena and put into prison camps with guns pointed at them. This is despite the fact that three-quarters of them were U.S. citizens. To this day, not a single act of espionage was proven.” King's hearing broadly targets an entire community solely on their faith and runs counter to the core values and beliefs that our nation was founded upon, Judy concluded.

These hearings will almost certainly increase widespread suspicion and mistrust of the American Muslim community and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. During 2010, we saw an increase in anti-Muslim hatred in public discourse, as well as hate crimes and violence targeting American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, including vandalism and arson of mosques, physical attacks, bullying of children in schools, and attempted murder.

Congress should not help create a climate where it is acceptable to target a particular faith community for discrimination, harassment and violence. As the Christian Science Monitor warned when government makes assumptions about a whole group of people, it’s not the same as a private group making doing the same. “With the power of the state comes a need to avoid stereotypes that might lead to an official denial of freedom and rights. That simple lesson seems to have been lost in the hearings that opened Thursday by the House Homeland Security Committee. The danger lies when official bodies, whether Congress or the FBI, treat entire religious communities as the source of a problem or hang a cloud of suspicion over them.”

As New York Times commented, Representative Peter King demeaned the crucial issue of homeland security — and himself — building a Congressional hearing around his foolish, provocative and hurtful claims of widespread radicalization of Muslim Americans.  The paper said: “Mr. King, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, offered not a scintilla of substantiation for his charges that more than 80 percent of American mosques are run by radicals — “an enemy living amongst us.” Nor did he offer any evidence to support his assertions that “law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or — in most cases — no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”

Rep. King is looking for a break before he restarts his anti-Muslim hearings. He announced that the next round will be on radicalization of Muslims in the prison. The King hearings send a message to Muslims in the U.S. and around the world: you are suspect because of your race and religion, and your rights count less than those of white, non-Muslim, Americans.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.