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July 28, 2011

Peter King continues anti-Muslims witch hunt

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Republican Rep. Peter King continued his anti-Muslim witch hunt Wednesday with his congressional hearing on the so-called "radicalization" of American Muslims.  This time the focus of his hearing was the Somali community.

This was King’s third such hearing that came five days after the Oslo Massacre by the right-wing terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik who was perhaps radicalized by a group of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam American bloggers and zealots such as Bat Ye’or, Daniel Pipes, Hugh Fitzgerald, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer Walid Shoebat.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's top Democrat, pointed to the Norway tragedy as one reason the hearings should not solely focus on Muslim extremists. "This lone wolf extremist killed nearly 80 people in his anti-Islamic fervor," said Thompson. "It is too early to say what the people of Norway will take from this horrific national tragedy.  But for me, this incident makes plain that the madness of terrorism cannot be neatly confined to any one religion, one people or one nation," Thompson said.

King rejected the criticism, saying the tragedy in Norway had nothing to do with the focus of the hearings. "I will not back down from holding these hearings," he said. "I will continue to hold these hearings so long as I am the chairman of this committee."

Committee Democrats, as they have previously, said King's hearings unfairly single out the religious group, and called on him to hold no more.

"Before these hearings began, I requested that their focus be broadened to include a look at the real and present threat of domestic violent extremism," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee's top Democrat.

Thompson also questioned the danger posed by al-Shabab, which landed on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations in February 2008. "Al-Shabab does not appear to present any danger to this homeland," Thompson said, citing vigorous law enforcement efforts to track the group.

Bennie Thompson, said that so far, al-Shabaab has not targeted the United States or U.S. interests abroad, and that most of those recruited in North America carried out terrorist attacks against other Muslims in Somalia. 

Other committee Democrats used recent events to protest the hearings' focus on Muslims. Several mentioned the anti-Muslim gunman's bloody rampage in Norway Friday to argue that extremists come from a variety of backgrounds.

Another held up a front-page newspaper story about the victims of the famine in Somalia, and asked if it might not be more constructive to focus on that tragedy.

Rep. Jackson Lee Wants ‘Hearing On Right-Wing Extremists’

Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee thought domestic “hate groups” should be of concern to the country and should be included in the Committee’s investigation.

Jackson Lee argued:

“I would add to that, that I would like to have a hearing on right-wing extremists, ideologues who advocate violence and advocate, in essence, the terrorizing of certain groups. . . . My concern with the focus of the hearings that we have had is the isolation of certain groups.”

Mediatite pointed out that it might seem that Jackson Lee’s request comes only in light of the recent Norway attacks, however it turns out this isn’t the first time she brought up alleged non-Muslim threats at one of King’s hearings.

During last month’s hearings, turned the spotlight on “Christian militants” as she noted that one witness who wrote a letter to the committee about the dangers of radical Islam in prisons had been arrested for bombing an abortion clinic.

“Are you familiar with the Christian militants?” she asked former New York Dept. of Correctional Services official Patrick Dunleavy. “Can one might say that they might possibly want to undermine this country because right now the right for women to choose is a Constitutional right but people disagree with it but here is an individual trying to undermine the protections that are given to women? Would you suggest that might be compared to trying to undermine this country? That’s a possibility, is it not?”

“Well, I think that anyone that goes about killing in the name of God is an ideologue,” Dunleavy admitted.

Peter King: Al-Shabab recruits 40 Americans

In his opening remarks King said: "I note that certain elements of the politically correct media, most egregiously the vacuous ideologues at the New York Times—are shamelessly attempting to exploit the horrific tragedy in Norway to cause me to refocus these hearings away from Muslim-American radicalization." "Let me make this clear to the New York Times and their acolytes in the politically correct, moral equivalency media, I will not back down from holding these hearings," he added.

King, who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, released his committee's results from an investigation, which found more than 40 Americans have turned up fighting for Al-Shabab in Somalia, a higher number than previously reported. Fifteen were killed, and at least 21 remain unaccounted for and pose a "direct threat" to the United States, according to the report. Many of those cases stem from Minnesota, where more than 20 Somali youth have disappeared and later turned up in Somalia with the terror group.

Earlier this month, an al-Shabab member pleaded guilty to recruiting Muslims at a Minneapolis mosque, King noted. And one Minnesotan recruited by the group, Shirwa Ahmed, became what King called "the first confirmed American suicide bomber in our history" in an attack in Somalia in 2008.

"There is no equivalency in the threat to our homeland from a deranged gunman and the international terror apparatus of Al-Qaida and its affiliates, such as Al-Shabab, who are recruiting people in this country and have murdered thousands of Americans in their jihad attacks," King said. "I will not back down from holding these hearings."

Minnesota, home to a large Somali-American community, has been the focus of federal investigations into radicalization for years. Just last week, a Minneapolis man pled guilty to recruiting members of the community to join Al Shabab and helping them travel to Somalia. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

Rep. Keith Ellison denied request to testify

Ironically, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat who is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, was denied a request to testify before at a committee hearing on the so-called Islamic radicalization. According to Minnesota Post, Ellison sent Rep. King a letter Monday asking if he could testify at a hearing on the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization operating in Somalia. King responded that Wednesday’s hearing is an extension of the first couple the committee has held, and since Ellison testified at the first hearing on the issue, in March, he would not be permitted to testify Wednesday.

Minneapolis has the largest Somali community in the United States.

Ellison, who watched the hearing in the witness box, said all of Wednesday's witnesses had something useful to contribute to the discussion on terrorism. But he again questioned King's motives to single out Muslims. "I really feel it's just extremely bad form, bad politics, and not within the spirit of our American Constitution to kind of go after a religious minority group," Ellison said in an interview after the hearing. "I just think that's totally disgusting."

Minnesota Post quoted Ellison as saying that Wednesday’s hearing threatened to break critical ties with the Somali-American community, which he called “our strongest allies in the fight against violent extremism.” “This hearing threatens to undo vital work done by the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and local officials to build trust with the community,” he said.

Two Minnesotans - William Anders Folk, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, and St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith - testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

Ties between al-Shabab and al-Qaida

William Anders Folk, a former federal prosecutor who handled al-Shabab cases in the Minneapolis area, said that groups of men affiliated with al-Shabab have left Minneapolis in recent years, and that once overseas, they become difficult to track.

Folk compared al-Shabab to al-Qaida, reminding committee members that before the 9/11 attacks, many American intelligence officials underestimated Osama bin Laden's capabilities. "Groups which are aspirational today could be operational tomorrow," Folk said.

"The dangerousness and effectiveness of Al-Shabab's rhetoric is clear from Minnesota's experience with this organization," said Folk.

To demonstrate Al-Shabab's recruiting effectiveness, Folk pointed to an October 2008 bombing in Somalia, when Shirwa Ahmed, of Minneapolis, became the first U.S. citizen known to carry out a suicide attack. Within a week, Folk said Wednesday, a group of Minnesotans left the country to join Al-Shabab in Somalia.

The final witness before the committee was Tom Smith, the Chief of Police for St. Paul, Minnesota.  He said his precinct has had great success in reaching out to the large Somali American community in his city, working in small groups with teens and women, and that integration into society is the key to making young people less vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists. Smith spoke extensively on sports and other programs that have strengthened ties between police officers in his city and young, disaffected Somali Americans who might otherwise fall prey to al-Shabab recruiters. "We have built strong relationships with a community once isolated," he said.

The hearing featured just one Somali witness from Canada, Ahmed Hussen, who said that low employment within the Somali diaspora allowed some to become alienated “and fall victim to a narrative that turns them against Canada and the United States.” "This dangerous and constant anti-western narrative is fed to them by radicals in our community," said Hussen, "who do not hesitate to use these vulnerable youth as gun fodder in their desire to establish a base for the Al Qaeda terrorist group in Somalia."

Critics again question the targeting of one religious group

According to the Christian Century Wednesday's hearing inspired far less emotion than the two previous ones held by King. The first, in March, on the so-called radicalization of American Muslims in general, prompted heated debates and headlines weeks before it happened. Protestors lined the corridors outside the hearing room. The second hearing, in June, on the ‘radicalization’ of Muslims in the nation's prisons, was less dramatic -- and less well-attended.

Like King's first March hearing on Islamic radicalization, critics questioned the targeting of one religious group, particularly just days after an anti-Muslim terrorist in Norway killed 93 people.

Critics have long said King’s inquisitions into so-called Islamic radicalization could not only inflame anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, but also divert attention from other serious threats like those posed from violent right-wing extreme ideologies. Some want the committee to expand their scope.

Several Democrats on the committee Wednesday said Congress should investigate a broad spectrum of domestic terrorist threats, including anti-government hate groups and white supremacists.  No current federal officials have testified at the hearings.

At Wednesday's and previous hearings, some experts have argued that helping immigrant communities assimilate is the best way to keep the United States safe, said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., arguing against future hearings on Muslim Americans. "I get it. I get it. I get it. I get it," Richmond told King.

Rep. Yvette Clark of Brooklyn said the hearings should've expanded from Muslim radicalization to all forms of radicalization, including gang activity in inner cities. "When we become fixated on one type of people, we take our eyes off the prize," Clark said to King, adding, "I love you."

According to News Day, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) was perhaps the harshest critic of those on the panel, saying King's hearing "reminds me of a visit to the zoo when I saw the one-trick pony" and suggested that gang activity and other youth problems were equally important.

Hearings of Peter King make us less safe

Commenting on Wednesday’s hearing, Justin Krebs, the founder of Living Liberally, says King’s Muslim Radicalization hearings make us less safe. In an article published on WYNC.ORG blog, Kerbs suggested that King could have studied home-grown terrorism and the perverting influences that turn American citizens into violent actors - but he chose to specifically focus on the threat of Islam.

Congressman King is making us less safe by not dedicating resources and his platform to addressing threats that come from non-Muslim radical, violent extremists, Kerbs said adding: “And let's hope the comments of his witnesses, who make false and inflammatory statements about the nature of Islam and the extent of the threat of violence among American Muslims, don't intentionally or unwittingly inflame that imagination of a next generation of unbalanced individuals, lone gunmen and others who might really threaten our citizens and our civil society.”

Kerbs also referred to what he called inane and extreme responses to the attack in Norway by the right wing. “Alternet's round-up of the worst would be hilarious if it weren't frightening. Because so many had assumed the bombing was the work of Muslim radicals (as opposed to an anti-Muslim radical), conservative pundits had to backpedal with comments that referred to the gunman's act as "jihad," said "Islamic supremacists" had incited him to violence, and refused any comparison between the Muslim terrorism and Christian terrorism.”

Of course, these quotes are cherry-picked to be the most absurd (although many of them were stated in "mainstream" media outlets) and the majority of conservatives - like all Americans - recognized that an act of radical right-wing Christian violence is extreme, but isn't unique. We've seen it in our own country, he said adding: In fact, the DHS had issued a report about the danger of right-wing militants during the Bush Administration - before the Bush Administration suppressed and challenged the findings.

“But it isn't the extreme and sensational right-wing pundits we should worry about the most, it's our members of Congress. When Representative King (who, as is often noted, backed the IRA when they were officially considered a terrorist organization) decided that his hearings weren't about the greatest threat to America, but the Muslim threat, he made a choice,” Kerb argued.

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