Wednesday, March 9, 2011

House Hearings on American Muslims Set to Begin Today

Republican congressman Peter King has called for hearings on whether American Muslims are being radicalized and whether they pose a threat to the American people. The mere language describing these hearings already sets up Muslims as an “other” and draws attention to the fact that King sees “American Muslims” as separate from “regular Americans.”

The provenance of these hearings in fact began with a 1999 speech by Hisham Kabbani, a Sufi leader and neo-con darling, who told the State Department that, “85 percent of all mosques have extreme leadership.” This statement, which was based on Kabbani’s personal opinion and not on any serious research, was picked up by Steven Emerson, who ran the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and then by Peter King, who is currently the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Hatem Bazian, UC Berkeley-based Islamic scholar and activist, says, “This fictional number became a factual record.” He claims that Kings policies, including the demand for these hearings, have been developed around this number. According to Bazian, actual research has revealed that American Muslim communities are penetrated by the same social problems as the larger American society- drug use, underage sexual activity- and for that reason are perfectly representative of American society, thus rendering useless the distinction between Americans and American Muslims.

Another reason King offers for calling for the hearings has been the lack of cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the Muslim community. King has claimed in interviews that, privately, law enforcement leadership has complained about this lack of cooperation, but publicly, they are saying the opposite. Attorney General Holder has said that Muslim cooperation, "Has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats." Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, has said, “Many of our cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community in the United States.” Similar examples abound. Perhaps this is why King has not invited any members of the law enforcement community to speak at the hearings.

This prompts us to examine who, exactly, is going to speak. The invited speakers, are as follows: Melvin Bledsoe, an individual with no scholarly or authoritative background whose son allegedly shot and killed an army recruiter in 2009; Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which released a film called "The Third Jihad”; Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who was invited to speak by the Democratic representatives on the committee, and who is expected to praise the Muslim community’s cooperation; Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis; and two congressmen, one Republican, and one Democratic. The Republican representative, Frank Wolf of Virginia, as a member of a House subcommittee, overseas the budget of the FBI and the Justice Department. The Democratic representative, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is the first Muslim elected to Congress. There have been no scholars or researchers invited to speak.

Conspicuously absent is Daisy Khan, the woman behind the Cordoba House, which is the Islamic community center that has been incorrectly referred to in the media as “the ground zero mosque” (it is neither a mosque, nor at ground zero). Khan has said, “Islam is an American religion,” and has called extremists, “a fraction within a fraction within a fraction.”

It remains to be seen whether these hearings will devolve into a McCarthy-like witch hunt, with Muslims playing the part of the Communists, or whether King’s fellow committee members will see that America has actual problems to focus on that will not be solved by “othering” yet another minority group.

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