As Peter King’s hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans continue this morning, civic and security groups are speaking out about the potential negative consequences of King’s divisive hearings. King did not call on any law enforcement officials as witnesses, and security experts from The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security released a 2010 study which “found that Muslim-American communities strongly reject radical jihadi ideology, are eager to contribute to the national counterterrorism effort, and are fiercely committed to integration within the mainstream of American social and economic life.” In addition, the Triangle Center reports that “Muslim-Americans have developed strong working relationships with federal and local law enforcement agencies.” The study continues:
Public and private denunciations of terrorism and violence. Muslim-American organizations and leaders have consistently condemned terrorist violence here and abroad since 9/11, arguing that such violence is strictly condemned by Islam. Our research found that these statements were not just for public consumption, but were supported by local Muslim religious and community leaders, who consistently condemned political violence in public sermons and private conversations. These statements represent powerful messages that resonate within Muslim-American communities.
Self-policing. Muslim-Americans have adopted numerous internal self-policing practices to prevent the growth of radical ideology in their communities. The practices range from confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques. Muslim-Americans have also adopted programs for youth to help identify individuals who react inappropriately to controversial issues so they can be counseled and educated.
In Foreign Policy, Suhail Kahn of the American Conservative Union discusses how King’s hearings could undercut the struggle against domestic terrorism:
The hearings could also foster mistrust between law enforcement agencies and Muslim communities, thereby weakening a crucial link in efforts to combat terrorism. Although King may believe otherwise, the Muslim community in the United States has cooperated and partnered with law enforcement for years. Tips from Muslim Americans have led directly to the foiling of a number of murderous plots. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim communities have helped U.S. security officials prevent more than 40 percent of al Qaeda plots threatening the United States since the 9/11 attacks. In the past year, that number spiked to three-quarters of all such plots.
Potential terrorist attacks that have been foiled with Muslim help include the arrest of five Northern Virginia men accused of attempting to join the Taliban and the May 2010 Times Square bomb plot, which was foiled when a Muslim vendor notified police of a suspicious-looking vehicle. These examples highlight the importance of community-oriented policing by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Why poison this crucial relationship through misguided and alarmist hearings?
But the risk that the hearing will reinforce dubious religious stereotypes and stir already high levels of anti-Muslim sentiment outweighs the potential benefits. If the hearings devolve into a political circus, here's hoping that sensible Americans will be willing to stand up for the rights and dignity of the Muslim American community.