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Peter King's witch hunt continues with second anti-Muslim hearing

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The Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security , Peter King (Republican-NY), is back again to exploit fear of American Muslims. On June 15, he continued Muslim witch hunt with another controversial hearing. This was the second in a series of hearings King has said he plans to hold on the issue of the so-called radicalization within the American Muslim community.

King caused a public furor in March with his first hearing on the so-called radicalization, as nearly 100 of his Democratic House colleagues pleaded with him to cancel it.

As Boston Globe said the fury surrounding New York Representative Peter King's March hearing on the so-called radicalization of Muslim-American communities was an embarrassment for the House and its Homeland Security Committee. Not a single meaningful recommendation came from the politically charged investigation. The only memorable moment was when Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, broke down as he spoke of a falsely accused Muslim New York City paramedic who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The focus of the second hearing was on the "threat of Muslim-American radicalization in U.S. prisons," and though King painted the threat as serious, but there was little evidence to support that claim.  

While many witnesses acknowledged that there have been incidents where U.S. prisoners have been radicalized, they all seemed to emphasize the low occurrence of such cases, especially given that America has the largest incarceration rate and prison population of any country in the world.

The one witness who has conducted extensive academic research on the issue was Professor Bert Useem of Purdue University, whose research was funded by institutions affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. In his written testimony, Useem concluded, "My core argument, then, is that U.S. prisons are not systematically generating a terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland." "Prisons have not served as a major source of Jihad radicalization," Useem said. 

One of the most cited examples of Islamic prison radicalization in the past decade is the plot in 2004 and 2005 to target military facilities, synagogues and other Los Angeles-area sites. The government said the ringleader, Kevin James, was a California State Prison inmate who converted to Islam while he was incarcerated for robbery. Three of James' followers were arrested before they could carry out the attack. A more recent case is that of a 2009 plot in New York to bomb synagogues and shoot down military airplanes. Two of the four suspects in the plot converted to Islam while in prison.

However, Peter Beinart, associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, reminds that over the last decade or so, there's been at least as much domestic terrorism by folks like Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph (who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics), Bruce Edwards Ivins (the main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks), and most recently, Jared Lee Loughner.

The top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) challenged the scope of the hearing, questioning why the panel's inquiry focused only on radicalization of one group and not others, like those of other religions or even the at-risk slices of the prison community cited later by witnesses.

"I think it is safe to conclude that the risk of terrorism originating from Muslim converts in U.S. prisons is small. Limiting this committee's oversight of radicalization to one religion ignores threats posed by extremists of all stripes," Thompson said, adding that his staff consulted representatives from the Bureau of Prisons and state prison representatives across the country.

Thompson said those officials indicated they "routinely" require religious staffs, including priests, rabbis and imams, to undergo "rigorous vetting," that prisoners do not have internet access and that all non-legal mail is opened, read and "sometimes censored."

"If prison were a major cause of terrorism, we'd see a large proportion of jihad-terrorists linked to prison. That is not the case," Purdue University professor Burt Useem said in his prepared remarks. "As long as law enforcement continues to be alert and work collaboratively with each other, the threat of terrorists in and from prisons will continue to be diminished."

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., suggested the hearing was "racist," asking why Muslims in prisons are being targeted as opposed to other religious or ethnic minorities.

The Bigotry of Peter King

Peter Beinart says King's anti-terror credentials are spotty. His anti-Muslim credentials, on the other hand, are excellent. In 2007, he told Politico that "we have, unfortunately, too many mosques in this country."

Beinart said for many years King himself sympathized with the notoriously brutal Irish Republican Army. According to Mother Jones, King refused to condemn an IRA attack that killed nine police officers. He even complained that the FBI was harassing him for his IRA ties.

Peter Beinart argues that the GOP's shameful religious intolerance obscures the real homeland threat. Across the country, Republicans are rushing to head off the threat that America will soon be governed by Sharia (Islamic law). What's next? The threat represented by Halacha (Jewish law)? After learning that the University of Michigan offers foot-washing stations to facilitate Muslim prayer, Mike Huckabee recently declared that "the accommodation we're making to one religion at the expense of others is very un-American."

"Actually, once upon a time, Republicans claimed that the accommodation and respect America offered people of all faiths was part of what they, as conservatives, championed. As recently as 2000, George W. Bush sought the Muslim vote by condemning religious profiling. As president, he backed government support for all manner of religious charities because he knew that if Christ redeemed lives wrecked by addiction and abuse, so did Allah.

"Peter King's Islamophobia, in other words, does not merely threaten the values of secular liberals; it threatens the kind of American exceptionalism in which the GOP claims to believe. It undermines the claim that a religiously informed party need not be a religiously bigoted party. It undermines the claim that Republicans espouse a set of traditional principles, not a particular religious or ethnic heritage," Beinart concludes.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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