The first round of House committee hearings about the radicalization of Islam in America began with much fanfare. The committee chairman, Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.), has caught a great deal of criticism from the mainstream media for even having this hearing on a topic so important to many Americans.
King started the hearing by saying, “Some opposition is thoughtful, and some is hysteria.” He highlighted the need for debate because America is getting close to the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. During his speech, King displayed a poster used by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has advocated resistance toward the FBI.
Calls for cooler heads and a reasonable debate didn’t prevent many Democrats from putting on a display to attack the hearing. The first salvo came from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D.- Miss.), who commented that most of the terrorist attacks in America come from people who aren’t Muslim. To prove this he cited a statement by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which claimed that hate in America stems mostly from white opposition to changing demographics and opposition to a black President. He also pointed out, of course, that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the infamous Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, was a Christian.
Thompson further claimed that some Americans want “a modern-day crusade against Islam,” and that it will only fuel a new generation of suicide bombers and put American soldiers in harm’s way. He also believes that the uprisings taking place in the Middle East right now are predominantly secular. Thompson’s arguments set the tone for the rest of the debate.
The fiercest liberal wrath during the proceedings came from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.), who at one point began waving the Constitution duriing a passionate speech, emphatically stating that the sacred U.S. document was “living, breathing,” and now in terrible “pain.” She also said, “It’s already been tainted, this hearing,” and then stated that the committee was being used to “demonize a whole class of human beings.”
The hearing was also marred by attempts to portray Rep. King as a new Joe McCarthy, whose name was evoked several times. When asked serious questions, however, the panelists’ testimonials were quite stirring, if a bit factually shallow. Abdirizak Bihi—who is the uncle of a Burhan Hassan, of Somalian descent—spoke about how his nephew had been turned from an ambitious A student who wanted to go to Harvard into an Islamic militant. American-born Somalis who move back to their homeland to partake in terrorist acts have become common.
Bihi wanted to stress how this good, intelligent young man had gone from pursuing the American dream to waging jihad with the youth movement al-Shabaab on the enemies of Islam. It happened because the mosque he was attending had brainwashed him, and intimidated his family into staying quiet.
As for a solution to the problem, Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., a Muslim, stressed a need to reform the religion of Islam in order to avoid bringing the religion into government. Stressing his own beliefs and devotion to the Koran, he said that the religion needs an update that emphasizes, among other things, liberty above all else. The reformers and not the revivalists need to become ascendant within the Islamic community, Jasser said.
Jasser did not say whether there was much evidence that practices by his mosque had improved the general Muslim community, or whether this kind of reform would be possible in countries without a long tradition of political and religious liberty.
Cindy Sheehan of Code Pink, an anti-war group, was in attendance with a number of bearded and burka-wearing friends, but they remained mostly quiet throughout the hearing. Most of the sparks that flew were from House members and panelists. The debate came down to Republicans stressing the need for action against radical, and only radical, Muslims in America, and Democrats furious over the idea that the Muslim community had been singled out at all.
Most liberal representatives stated their beliefs that just having the hearings was a huge propaganda victory for al-Qaeda and terrorists, and that America was under attack because of it. This of course doesn’t line up with the fact that America suffered the worst domestic act of terrorism nearly 10 years ago, 10 years before this hearing took place.
King stressed the need for Americans to take terrorist threats and radicalization more seriously. As American soldiers stationed around the world are fighting and dying nearly every day to combat the threat of radical Islam abroad, it would seem self-evident that we need some commitment to this cause at home.