Politics

King Of Political Theater

Rep. Peter King marching in the 2007 Independence Day parade. Photo/Wikimedia

Rep. Pete King, the impresario of Capitol Kabuki, is very busy these days getting ready for his debut as the new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

And for his opening act, some time next month, the congressman is planning a hearing on the radicalization of young Muslims by local religious leaders.

The New York Republican believes this is a serious problem. He says he has heard an increasing number of stories from federal law enforcement officials that U.S. Islamic leaders have not cooperated with police or are fomenting young Muslims.

“There’s a systematic effort to radicalize young Muslim men,” King told the Los Angeles Times. “It would be irresponsible of me not to have this investigation. If it was coming from some other demographic group, I would say the same thing,” he said.

But U.S. Islamic leaders are concerned that the hearing will be more like a McCarthy-style witch-hunt because of the over-heated rhetoric King has consistently used to attack the Muslim community in the U.S. They say he is “unfairly tarring the Muslim community, which they said had helped U.S. law enforcement break up terrorist plots.”

That statement would appear to be supported by a recent study the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), entitled “Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database.” MPAC reported that:

• There were 77 total plots by domestic non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11/01. In comparison, there have been 41 total plots by domestic and international Muslim perpetrators since 9/11/01.

• There are at least five incidents of non-Muslim domestic extremists possessing or attempting to possess Biological, Chemical or Radiological weapons. One of those occurred since Obama’s election. No such cases involving Muslim violent extremists have been reported since 9/11/01.

• Evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies. Using Obama’s election as our measurement, since November 4, 2008 there have been 44 terror plots by non-Muslim domestic extremists. By comparison, there have been 20 plots by Muslim domestic and international extremists. Each of these categories constitutes close to 50% of all violent extremism cases since 9/11.

• Yet there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among American Muslims. We use Obama’s election as the start of a timeline for measurement. We found 14 out of the 19 post-election plots (74%) involved Muslim Americans engaging in ideological extremism before the vote. Only two out of 19 cases (10%) are individuals involved in extremist activities after Obama’s election.

• Muslim communities have stepped forward to help law enforcement foil over one out of every three Al Qaeda-related terror plots threatening America since 9/11. Muslim communities have helped law enforcement prevent the last 7 out of 11 Al Qaeda related plots.

So far, King seems intent on brushing off approaches from Muslims that they get together with King to discuss the subject. Rep. Keith Ellison, one of two Muslim members of Congress, buttonholed King on the House floor and offered to volunteer himself and other witnesses as proof that several terrorist plots —
including those in Times Square and in Virginia — were initially brought to the attention of federal law enforcement by Muslims.
And MPAC wrote to King suggesting a meeting. As of today, King has not responded to either suggestion and says the hearing will go forward as planned.

But King’s lack of responsiveness has worried American Muslim leadership. Alejandro Buetel, MPAC’s government liaison officer and author of the Terrorism Incident Database, told The Public Record, “We have no objection to a hearing. We just want to be sure they are focused on real problem solving, not political theater.”

What concerns MPAC and other Muslim-oriented groups is what they characterize as King’s often-expressed prejudice against Muslims.

For example, he cited a recent Pew poll he said showed that 15% of young American Muslims believed suicide bombing was justified.

He has said, “I also know of imams instructing members of their mosques not to cooperate with law enforcement investigating the recruiting of young men in their mosques as suicide bombers. We need to find the reasons for this alienation.”

In 2004 King said on the Sean Hannity program, “…you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists…Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don’t work, they don’t come forward, they don’t tell the police.”

King has said there are “too many mosques” in the U.S.”

He has characterized American Muslim leaders as “an enemy living amongst us” [which does not] cooperate in the war on terror”.

In a 2004 non sequitur, King said: “The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100% of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today.”

Two years later, King sent two letters to several thousand, mainly Jewish, constituents in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. The letters condemned American Muslim leaders, including those at the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI), for “failing to unequivocally denounce Islamic terrorism.”

Leaders of the ICLI, a Westbury-based mosque founded in 1985, supported King’s Democratic opponent in the last election, Nassau County Legislator David Mejias.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in 2009 warning of the rising threat of right-wing extremism, King told TV host Joe Scarborough that, instead of discussing the threat of anti-government radicals, DHS should focus on the threat emanating from “Muslims” and “mosques” at home.

He said ”[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano has never put out a report talking about ‘look out for mosques. Look out for Islamic terrorists in our country. Look out for the fact that very few Muslims come forward to cooperate with the police.’ If they sent out a report saying that, there would be hell to pay,” King said.

“The (DHS) was set up primarily to protect us from another terrorist attack from Islamic terrorists, and yet they talk about everything but that,”  he said.

In an opinion column in Newsday, King wrote, “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or — in most cases — no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”

“There are too many mosques in this country,” King told Politico in 2007. “There are too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.”

‘The leadership of the community is not geared to cooperation,’ Peter King says.

Corey P. Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called King’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

“If I saw that the hearings were sober and objective, I’d have no concerns,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative director. “But King is opting for a political circus approach.”

CAIR has not been invited to testify at the hearing.

Rep. Ellison takes a charitable view of Rep. King. “I don’t think Pete King is an evil person. He’s concerned about public safety and homeland security. And there have been cases where Muslims have done awful things. But it’s a narrow investigation, and it’s going to make a particular group feel targeted.”

“The bottom line is you have people who desperately want to help protect their country,” Ellison said, “and they are being nudged out of that opportunity because we’re told we are the problem.”

MPAC, in a January 7, 2011 letter to King, said the proposed hearings – as they are currently being framed – “would do little to solve the problem and would instead create an ugly political circus.”

MPAC called for a meeting with King to discuss his initiatives, the proposed hearings, and the efforts of the Muslim American community in fighting radicalization. “We certainly hope that Congressman King is serious enough about wanting to fight radicalization that he will take us up on this request in the coming days and weeks,” MPAC said.

“I hope my colleague from New York … does not make the mistake of trying to paint all Muslims with a broad, extremist brush,” Rep. Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, who is the other Muslim in Congress. In an email to the journal, POLITICO, he wrote,  “Because for one, that’s not an accurate depiction of the millions of peace-loving Muslims; and two, our national security depends on us forging strong partnerships with people across the Muslim world.”

Possible witnesses, according to King, include the Dutch critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Zuhdi Jasser, the Arizona-based founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser is a sharp critic of leading American Muslim groups, whose agenda he calls “Islamist.”

William Fisher, a regular contributor to The Public Record, has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere for the past 25 years and served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He reports on a wide-range of issues for numerous domestic and international newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

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