Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, will hold hearings next month on radicalization within the American Muslim community.
Weeks before he bangs the gavel, King is catching flak from both left and right: Conservatives are irked that most of the people he is calling to testify are Muslim leaders; House liberals would like to see him pursue homegrown terrorism more broadly, without a specific focus on Muslims.
The gruff Long Islander, in an interview with National Review Online, shrugs off his critics. The hearings, he predicts, will be neither toothless nor inflammatory. His aim, he says, is simply to dig into the root causes of radicalization with the help of Muslim leaders — Beltway pooh-poohing and political correctness be damned.
“I strongly believe that there is a concerted effort by al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates to recruit young Muslims living legally in this country,” King says. “It is a real threat, and it deserves our attention.”
Keeping the spotlight on the subject at hand will be a challenge, King acknowledges. He knows how easily such a hearing could devolve into a media circus. But by calling on Muslims to speak up, he hopes to spark a dialogue.
Better cooperation, King reasons, will be encouraged if the hearings turn down the volume and clear the air. For now, Walid Phares, a Beirut-born professor, and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician and military veteran, are slated to appear. Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), a Muslim, will also participate.
King’s strategy, however, leaves well-known experts on Islamic terrorism outside of the Muslim community — such as Steve Emerson, Robert Spencer, and Daniel Pipes — watching via C-SPAN.
“I don’t want to bring in the same faces,” King explains. “Nine years after September 11, people’s eyes glaze over if they keep seeing the same people. If we have subsequent hearings, and we have more questions, we can bring in others.”
King reckons that by bringing in a slew of Muslim leaders as initial witnesses, he will be able to get them, on record, to more fully explain how Muslims are supporting anti-terror efforts. At the same time, he is looking forward to giving Muslims a platform to voice their concerns about related issues. Looking at radicalization from the Muslim perspective, he says, could yield something constructive, beyond the usual blame game.
“Look, when I meet with Muslim leaders, people who are successful in their community, it is clear that there is no support for al-Qaeda. I don’t sense that at all.” King says. “What I do sense is that they feel like they are under siege.” That fear, he says, is natural, but unfortunate. “If they did speak out, it would make them a much more positive force.”
“It is not enough for them to say that they denounce all terrorism, that they denounce all violence,” King says. “They have to be much more aggressive. I don’t think they fully realize that. They worry that if they came out and highlighted their opposition to Islamic terrorism, it would focus too much attention on the Muslim community, reminding people that these terrorists are Muslims. So they don’t deal with it in an open way.”