Peter King’s Hearings: Islamophobia Draped in the American Flag

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Peter King’s Hearings: Islamophobia Draped in the American Flag

Representative Peter King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, will hold hearings this Thursday on “Radicalization of Muslim Americans.” While hearings on the threat of domestic terrorist attacks are important, regrettably King’s long standing anti-Muslim track record and the choice of the hearings title, “Radicalization of Muslim Americans,” have led many to fear the emergence of a successor to Senator Joseph McCarthy and a new neo-McCarthyism.

Peter King is an ideologue who for many years has uncritically hounded Muslim Americans, brush-stroking the Muslim American community with a series of unsubstantiated accusations. He sees no reason to let facts or evidence get in the way.

In 2004, King claimed in an interview with Sean Hannity that “no American Muslim leaders are cooperating in the war on terror,” and that “80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.” And he staunchly insisted, without providing any data or citing any government reports: “I’ll stand by that number of 85 percent. This is an enemy living amongst us.”

Most recently, asked about an authoritative study by the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security “Muslim American Terrorism Since 9/11: An Accounting” that reported that 48 of 120 cases involving terrorist plots came from tips from the Muslim-American community, King responded that there had not been “sufficient cooperation” and that this would be a key focus of his hearing.

True to form he then responded with a “trust me” anecdote: “Certainly in my dealings with the police in New York and FBI and others say they believe they do not get the level of cooperation that they need.”

Furthermore, in a population estimated at four to six million Muslims, King consistently has ignored the fact that the overwhelming number of Muslims are not connected to any suspicion, arrest or conviction for terrorism.

If King had read the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security’s study closely, he would have noted, among other findings:

  • That the number of Muslim Americans who were arrested for or perpetrated terrorist acts were 47 in 2009 and 20 in 2010.
  • That the report points out that not only did tips from Muslim Americans provide information that helped authorities thwart terrorist plots, but also that: “Muslim Americans have been so concerned about extremists in their midst that they have turned in people who turned out to be undercover informants.”

Peter King blatantly ignores statements by key government officials like FBI Director Robert S Mueller III and US Attorney General Eric H Holder, and Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, who each praise the Muslim American community for playing an instrumental role in assisting law enforcement agencies. At last report, King won’t be calling any law enforcement officials, non-government experts or leaders in the Muslim American community. Instead, reports say that he will opt for non-experts, three witnesses who have no expertise in terrorism or homeland security, and anecdotal evidence.

What do we know, what does empirical evidence tell us, about Muslim Americans?

A Pew Research Center 2007 study found that most Muslim Americans are “decidedly American” in income, education and attitudes, rejecting extremism by larger margins than Muslim minorities in Europe. Similarly, a 2009 Gallup report found that 70% of Muslim Americans have a job compared with 64% of the US population. Muslim men have one of the highest employment rates of religious groups; Muslim women are as likely as Catholic women to say that they work. After Jews, Muslims are the most educated religious community in the US. Muslim women (unlike their Jewish counterparts) are as likely as their male counterparts to have a college degree or higher. 40% of women have a college degree as compared to 29% of Americans overall. As Denis McDonough Deputy National Security Advisor to the president commented Sunday, March 6, at the Adams (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center in Sterling, Virginia, in a speech framing the Obama administration’s strategy to successfully prevent violent extremism:

“You create jobs and opportunity as small business owners and executives of major corporations. You enrich our culture as athletes and entertainers. You lead us as elected officials and Members of Congress. And no one should ever forget that Muslim Americans help keep America safe every day as proud Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Indeed, some of these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and now rest in our hallowed national cemeteries.”

Muslim Americans are as concerned about extremism and terrorism as other Americans. Their families and friends in “the old country” have been the primary victims of terrorist attacks. Like other Americans, Muslims also were victims; they too lost loved ones and friends in the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, they have seen their religion, not just the terrorists, vilified and as a result those in the mainstream majority have been victims of profiling, discrimination and hate crimes. Major civil liberties organizations have identified a host of serious abuses including racial profiling; overzealous and illegal arrests and detentions, surveillance, and wiretapping of Muslims, undercover infiltration of Muslim civic and religious organizations and trials using “secret evidence.” Yet, despite these extreme measures, as the FBI and Homeland Security have stressed, the majority of Muslims remain an integrated part of the American mosaic; many of their religious and community leaders and organizations work to fight extremism by cooperating and continuing to work with government agencies.

What about the future?

Of course there is an ongoing need to remain vigilant and to guard against potential domestic terrorist attacks. Homegrown extremism must be aggressively contained by law enforcement agencies, but done without brush-stroking local Muslim communities that notify and cooperate with them. The Muslim American community has demonstrated in its denunciations of acts of terrorism and its cooperation with law enforcement at the local and national levels that it is the most powerful national security partner protecting America and fellow Americans.

Peter King’s hearing is a staged event that will do little to shed light on the causes of domestic terrorism. If that were the goal then why not have government and non-government experts testify? Instead the hearing will be a platform for Islamophobia draped in the American flag, reinforcing ignorance, stereotypes, bigotry and intolerance in the name of national security.

John L. Esposito is professor of Religion and International Affairs and director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal center for Muslim-Christian understanding at Georgetown University at Georgetown University. He is also on the board of advisors at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

This article was originally published by the Washington Post On Faith blog.

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