Special Coverage on Domestic Terrorism Hearings: The Contrasting Views

A Congressional hearing on Thursday addressing homegrown Islamic terrorism offered divergent portraits of Muslims in America: one as law-abiding people who are unfairly made targets, the other as a community ignoring radicalization among its own and failing to confront what one witness called “this cancer that’s within.”

Attacked by critics as a revival of McCarthyism, and lauded by supporters as a courageous stand against political correctness, the hearing — four hours of sometimes emotional testimony — revealed a deep partisan split in lawmakers’ approach to terror investigations and their views on the role of mosques in America.
Democrats sought to put the spotlight on the lone law enforcement witness, Sheriff Leroy D. Baca of Los Angeles, who testified that Muslims do cooperate, and they cited a Duke University study that found that 40 percent of foiled domestic terror plots had been thwarted with the help of Muslims. Opponents to the committee’s ‘narrowly focused witch hunt’ believe that the efforts are futile and will not make the nation safer.

Democratic congresswoman, Judy Chu from Los Angeles and the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, writes: “Americans [must] remember a time when freedom was not something you took for granted. Over the past century, minority groups have seen their freedoms curtailed for political purposes. Let us not forget 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.”

While, Representative Peter T. King, a conservative Republican from Long Island, has convened hearings into what he says is the radicalization of American Muslims and the supposed refusal to cooperate with law enforcement officials. King is also the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, labels these hearings as “necessary.”

CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group also found themselves in the hot seat–again. King described CAIR “discredited” and congratulating the Federal Bureau of Investigation for cutting off high-level cooperation with the group. Representative Frank R. Wolf of Virginia accused CAIR of “an attempt to stifle debate and obstruct cooperation with law enforcement.” Representative Chip Cravaack of Minnesota went further, telling a witness, Leroy D. Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff, “Basically, you’re dealing with a terrorist organization.”

CAIR cited the hearings as “political theater” intended to score points, not to elucidate facts which results in ‘just dividing us further.’ “We are the answer to violent extremism,” said Nihad Awad, a Palestinian-American who is the executive director of CAIR, noting the group’s longstanding campaign against religious violence, called “Not in the Name of Islam.”

Even within the Muslim community there seems to be opposing views: some Muslim Americans view the Congressional hearings on Islamic radicalism as a mere provocation meant to incite bigotry. While scholars such as Akbar Ahmad (amongst others), view the hearings as an opportunity to educate Americans about the Muslim American community’s diversity and faith.

In his Op Ed piece for the NY Times, Akbar Ahmad writes:

Muslim leaders must acknowledge that many Americans are fearful of religiously motivated terrorism. Simply to protest the hearings and call for them to be canceled, as some have done, strikes many non-Muslims as uncooperative, or as intended to conceal dark secrets or un-American behavior.

Instead, Muslims should embrace the chance to explain their beliefs fully and clearly. We have nothing to hide. But members of Congress also need to act responsibly. They should avoid broad accusations, and be aware that the hearings will be closely followed worldwide. The actions of both groups will shape America’s relationship with Islam, and the relationship of American Muslims with their country.

The Muslim community in America is not a monolith. Very broadly, it comprises three groups: African-Americans (many of them converts), immigrants (largely from the Middle East and South Asia) and white converts. And Muslims from every part of the world study and work in the United States.

Yet the diversity of the Muslim community is frequently obscured by ignorance and mistrust. We were often asked by non-Muslims whether Muslims could be “good” Americans. The frequency with which this question was asked indicated the doubts that many harbored. Too many Americans acknowledged that they knew virtually nothing about Islam and said they had never met a Muslim.

Ahmad faulted CAIR for its energetic attacks on Mr. King and his hearing, saying that like the Republican congressman, the group used the conflict over the hearing to rally its own political base. “My criticism is that CAIR could have helped bring down the temperature,” Mr. Ahmed said. “It shouldn’t present such a starkly polarized picture. That just widens the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

In advance of Thursday’s Congressional hearings on homegrown terrorism, hundreds protested in Times Square on Sunday. Many protesters held signs reading “Today I am a Muslim too,” voicing their concerns that Representative Peter T. King, was unfairly singling out Muslims in his hearings, as well as in interviews in Washington over the weekend. Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a founder of a project to develop an Islamic community center near ground zero, spoke at the protests.

On the heels of the Congressional Hearings, several research publications offered data to help understand the phenomena of Radicalization and integration.

1) Rethinking Radicalization:

Summary: Radicalization is complex. Yet a thinly-sourced, reductionist view of how people become terrorists has gained unwarranted legitimacy in some counterterrorism circles. This view corresponds with—and seems to legitimize—“counter-radicalization” measures that rely heavily on non-threat-based intelligence collection, a tactic that may be ineffective or even counterproductive. Only by analyzing what we know about radicalization and the government’s response to it can we be sure that these reactions are grounded in fact rather than stereotypes and truly advance our efforts to combat terrorism.

2) National Survey of American Muslims Finds Mosques Help Muslims Integrate into American Political Life

Despite the popularized idea that Muslims are radicalized around the country in mosques, we find that mosques help Muslims integrate into US society, and in fact have a very productive role in bridging the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States. This is a finding in social science that is consistent with decades of research on other religious groups such as Jews, Protestants and Catholics where church attendance and religiosity has been proven to result in higher civic engagement and support for core values of the American political system. Likewise, mosques are institutions that should be encouraged to function as centers of social and political integration in America.