Mark Potok

Mark Potok

Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project


Some people seem to have great difficulty in understanding why U.S. Rep. Peter King’s hearings on radicalization of American Muslims, set to open this Thursday, are seen as so loathsome by so many. Let me try to explain.

Imagine, for starters, if another congressman — say, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Democrat and the only Muslim in Congress — decided to hold hearings on the Christian fundamentalist community and the radicalization of some of its members. After all, it is undeniably fundamentalists who have formed the bulk of the extremists who have burned or bombed hundreds of abortion clinics and murdered eight providers or their assistants. The vast majority of these people have been motivated, as most have said themselves, by their interpretations of Christianity.

Chairman Homeland Security Peter Hitler King


Well, I think you can see where this is going. You wouldn’t have time to snap your fingers before outraged Americans, metaphorically speaking, surrounded the Capitol carrying pitchforks and torches, demanding the heads of their representatives. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, to mention just a couple of the far-right talking heads, would erupt before their Fox News audiences. After all, just think back to the self-righteous hullabaloo that broke out when a leaked 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on the radical right suggested that hate groups were interested in recruiting returning veterans with military skills. Conservatives around the country went into outrage mode, shouting to the skies that the perfectly accurate report was calling all veterans potential Timothy McVeighs. The political right is the first to scream “demonization” when it feels it is being targeted.

There’s another very good reason why the hearings organized by King, a Republican from New York who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, amount to what an editorial in today’s New York Times called “Mr. King’s show trial.” Peter King does not come to the question of radical Islam with clean hands.

This is a man who has said that 80% to 85% of American mosques are run by extremists — jihadists — and who told a reporter that “unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country.” He says that Al Qaeda is aggressively recruiting Muslims in this country. Last month, he was the first guest on a cable television show hosted by Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the aggressively anti-Muslim ACT! for America group and one of the more obnoxious Muslim-bashers around (the Times reported Monday that she claims radical Muslims have “infiltrated” the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and more). He claims that the vast majority of American Muslims and their leaders have refused to cooperate with law enforcement investigations of jihadists — but then says he can’t reveal his law enforcement sources.

In fact, like virtually all King’s claims, that last is baloney. As a study last month from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security revealed, 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks in the United States since 9/11 were turned in by fellow Muslims. What’s more, leaders of virtually all responsible law enforcement groups report that most Muslims are highly cooperative.

King is holding his version of the McCarthy hearings at a time when extremist groups in the United States — hate groups, antigovernment “Patriot” zealots and extremist vigilante organizations — are expanding dramatically. Just last month, a new Southern Poverty Law Center report showed that the number of three strands of the radical right went from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 last year. In January, authorities arrested a neo-Nazi apparently planning a bomb attack on the Arizona border; found a powerful bomb set to explode by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade; and seized a man apparently about to bomb a Michigan mosque. And just last week, a large group of Muslim-haters screamed a litany of insults against Muslims at a California fundraisers, terrifying their cowering children, as can be seen in video of the event.

But King has no interest in these threats. To him, Islam is the enemy.

The reality is that King’s hearing are about demonizing Muslims, and they are, unfortunately, very likely to accomplish that goal. After all, they come in the midst of a renewed bout of Islamophobia — a round of hatred and fear that began last summer when other opportunistic politicians ginned up alarm about the Islamic center planned for lower Manhattan. They follow by just a few months the adoption of an absurd Oklahoma law designed to prevent the introduction of Islamic religious law in the state’s courts — a law that is now being emulated elsewhere.

Ultimately, this kind of demonization leads to violence against the targeted minorities. President George W. Bush understood that, and that is why, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he gave a number of speeches saying that Muslims and Arabs were not our enemies — Al Qaeda was. As a result, anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had spiked up an astounding 1,700% after the attack, dropped by two thirds the following year. Bush may have made many mistakes as a president, but he clearly understood that demonizing minorities ultimately leads to violence.

Words have consequences — unfortunately, even Peter King’s.


Muslims Are Not the Enemy

Rev. Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton

President, National Action Network

During the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy led Americans on a wild goose chase to hunt down ‘communists’ and ‘communist agents’ within the United States. As a consequence, anyone who dared to even question him, quickly became the subject of harassment as well. A virtual state of paranoia quickly spread across the nation. Many innocent people were tormented, many lost their jobs and perhaps worst of all, many felt for the first time that they were outsiders in their own country. The delusional actions of Senator McCarthy eventually resulted in his own demise, but the fear mongering of his twisted ideology provided a dangerous platform by which another group could be scapegoated in the future. Unfortunately, that moment has reared its ugly head this week as Rep. Peter King of NY begins Congressional hearings on American Muslims.

Dubbed “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response,” the hearings have been orchestrated to investigate extremism within the American Muslim community and their cooperation with authorities, according to King’s explanations. Openly disparaging mosques and Muslims across the country for not going far enough in preventing radicalization, King fails to realize that a vast majority of foiled attacks in the U.S. were a direct result of Muslims stepping up and reporting suspicious individuals/behavior. Rep. King is ignoring the blatant reality that his investigations will in fact do more to deepen the mistrust between Muslims and their own government. And perhaps most damning of all, these hearings are nothing short of racial/religious profiling that will only further an alarming rise of Islamophobia.

No one — not even Muslims themselves — will dismiss the idea that extremism and violence must be eliminated so that we all can attain a peaceful future. Muslims are, after all, the greatest victims of acts of terrorism around the world. But to state or imply that terror and violence is only created and perpetrated by this one group is categorically false and disturbingly misleading. If an individual like Jared Loughner, the accused Tucson shooter, allegedly pulled the trigger and killed innocent civilians, do we now start investigating all young White men? And if there are now more than 1,000 hate/militia groups in the U.S. — the highest number ever — why are we not holding Congressional hearings on the radicalization of this segment of the population?

By marginalizing a religious minority, King is sending a dangerous message to the Muslim community and the entire populous that runs counter to the very foundation of our nation. If we truly believe in religious freedom and tolerance, we cannot lump an entire group of people with a notion of collective guilt for the grievous crimes of a few. And we cannot arbitrarily hold hearings on all American Muslims — in effect saying that they are different from everyone else. We cannot allow King or anyone else to dictate whose patriotism can be questioned, and whose will not.

Senator McCarthy created hysteria that paralyzed this country and distracted us from more pertinent issues. Today, as we face rampant unemployment, a struggling economy, an educational crisis and an unstable future, perhaps we should direct our energy towards these very grave dilemmas instead of profiling Muslims and creating a notion of ‘otherness’. Unlike what Islamophobia purports, Muslims have been in this country since its inception and it’s time we acknowledge their contribution to the fabric of American society — not demonize them with unnecessary investigations.

  1. samhenry says:

    We need a new national anthem. Here is my entry. Here are the by products of American ingenuity dancing and singing:

  2. samhenry says:

    Shoot me. I strongly believe that ironically, King may be doing this country a favor. The feelings on both or all sides really have been strong but erupt only at times – most conversations and fears carried out beneath the surface. This will get it all out and the longer the discussion the better. True, the forum could have been better (a conference on radicalism and sub topics in various communities. But at least it gets things moving and now those with a more academic view can move this into another arena. It is like hitting the mule over the head before you tell him what to do. Let’s see what the hearings bring out and then get upset. Sharpeton always has an agenda – Sharpeton. He has good points but he is everywhere there is controversy with some faction getting screwed. Hey big Al, were OK to take this on both Wasps and Jews and Hispanics and Chinese in this country – we can take on this conversation with not about our Muslim fellows and move ahead toward the big picture. Yours in optimism perhaps misplaced as are my glasses. SH

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