Peter King, the New York Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, has been a good friend to those of us who work to protect American national security. In launching an investigation into the ideology that fuels the Islamist threat against the United States, he has had the courage to go where Congress has been too intimidated to go before. Still, with the second round of his committee’s hearings on “radicalization” having been completed, it is necessary to question his approach.
The committee has kept on the sidelines the peerless analysts Steven Emerson and Robert Spencer, who were sounding the alarm before most people in this country knew there was an Islamist threat — very much including most people in our government. King holds the work of these experts in high regard. Yet, he has decided the public’s understanding is better served by calling as his main witnesses (a) Muslims, who can give a firsthand account of what goes on in their communities, and (b) law-enforcement officials, current and former, who’ve designed and carried out what passes for the counterterrorism strategy followed by police agencies throughout the country — basically, terrorism investigations and Muslim outreach.
There are serious problems with this approach. Hearing from Muslims is obviously important, but to limit the committee to their input on what’s happening inside the Islamic community is to fall for the fallacy that you have to be a member of the group to grasp and explain the group’s dynamics. If that were true, why would anyone care what King’s analysis is? Congress is not a Muslim body, so why would its insights be any more valuable than those of experts like Emerson and Spencer?
Moreover, while the Muslim community in the United States includes many patriotic Americans, it also includes Islamists who seek to undermine our country. The latter adhere to taqqiya, a principle that endorses misrepresentation when necessary to advance the Islamist cause. This principle’s operation is not mitigated by putting these people under oath at hearings, because their fidelity is to sharia, not American law — if they think it will help to lie, they will lie.
Recall the testimony of King’s very first witness back in March, CAIR’s favorite congressman, Keith Ellison (at least, I think that’s the name he’s going by these days — he’s used several in his checkered past, well documented by Powerline’s Scott Johnson). As Matt Shaffer recounted on the Corner, Ellison — a hard-Left Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives — gave the committee a weepy account of American bigotry against a Muslim American who died heroically trying to save lives on 9/11. Not surprisingly, Ellison’s story was riddled with falsehoods. To be sure, there is value in watching some of these characters dodge, dissemble, and demagogue. But they are a big part of the challenge we face, so it’s foolish to make them our window into the Muslim community.
As for law enforcement, it is seized by political correctness (as I discussed at length in Willful Blindness). Again, there is value in hearing from those who have investigated cases involving jihadist terror and who formulate strategies for gathering the intelligence needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Many of these officials, however, are wedded to the premise that Islam is not the problem; in fact, they say it is the solution to the problem. Even if they privately believe otherwise, they wouldn’t dare say so publicly — not if they want to continue their upwardly mobile careers.
Which is to say that these officials resolutely avoid acknowledging the very thing that King is trying to probe. Moreover, their perspective — observing the Muslim community from without — is obviously no more valuable than that of non-police experts such as Emerson and Spencer, who have been at it for a lot longer, tend to know more about the subject, and are less afraid that making trenchant criticisms sure to get them smeared as “Islamophobic” would be career suicide.
It is worth considering these points, because the continuation of the hearings this week had some curious aspects. Let’s start with what was not presented. As I detailed in a column last week, the most important recent development in our understanding of Islamic “radicalization” — the stated focus of the hearings — is a new study by the “Mapping Sharia” project, headed up by David Yerushalmi of the Center for Security Policy and Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar. It shows that 81 percent of American mosques disseminate Islamic literature that endorses jihadist violence and that imams actively recommend these tracts to worshippers in nearly 85 percent of these mosques.
Today’s hearings were not focused on the mosques, though. They homed in on radicalization in American prisons. Far be it from me to suggest that jails are not a concern, but the premise of the hearing was that “radicalization” is helped along by the fact that inmates are a captive audience. To the contrary, the Yerushalmi-Kedar study demonstrates that the purveyors of Islamist ideology do not need a jail setting; they find a comfortable home in four out of every five mosques in the country. Their success, right out in the open in Islamic communities, mirrors the experience of Muslim populations overseas, where, for example, more than 80 percent of Egyptian and Pakistani Muslims desire to live under sharia and to insulate their countries from Western influences.
No, the problem is not radicalization in the prisons. It is our overly optimistic concept of “radicalization.” The very use of that term implies that mainstream Islamic doctrine must be moderate and peaceful, and therefore that heterodox “radicals” would need a coercive setting, like a jail, to inculcate their violent, anti-Western corruption of that doctrine. In fact, the worrisome interpretation of Islam is not radical. It is the dominant construction of Islamic doctrine, even in the United States. That doesn’t mean all Muslims will buy what the “radicals” are selling, but it does tell us why “radicalization” is so prevalent.
If your approach to the problem is wrong, your solutions are apt to be counterproductive. To prove that point, look no further than this New York Post report lauding the committee’s focus on prison radicalization. It relies on a New York City Police Department study on homegrown threats, which laments the lack of imams in federal and New York jails — only ten in the federal system just a few years ago for nearly 200,000 inmates, and just 40 for the state’s 67 prisons. If we could just fill the jails with chaplains from among those legions of moderate imams, the thinking goes, then inmates would no longer be subjected to “radical” Islam.
But the Yerushalmi-Kedar survey underscores that the imams are the problem, not the solution. The moderate ones appear to be outnumbered about 4-to-1. Indeed, the NYPD study highlights longtime prison chaplain Warith Deen Umar, a firebrand who praised the 9/11 jihadists as “martyrs.” If we look at Islam as we find it, rather than Islam as the government wishes it were, we might very well conclude that Umar is more the rule than the exception. After all, he has hardly been ostracized just because the authorities finally booted him from the chaplain program. He remains an influential presence on the American Muslim scene, featured, for example, as a speaker at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention in 2009.
ISNA, the most significant Islamist organization in the United States, was shown to be a coconspirator (unindicted) in the Justice Department’s 2008 Hamas-financing prosecution against the Holy Land Foundation, a case that laid bare the Muslim Brotherhood’s ambition to destroy the United States from within. ISNA’s history of Brotherhood ties and Hamas support doesn’t stop thousands of Muslims from attending its conventions. And why should it? It doesn’t stop the Obama administration, either: The headline speaker at the 2009 convention at which Imam Umar appeared was none other than Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s close friend and adviser.
The issue isn’t the prisons. The prisons are a microcosm of the broader threat: mainstream Islam.
Fear not, though, for that was most certainly not what the House committee heard from one of Wednesday’s star witnesses, Michael Downing, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. As Patrick Poole recounts at Pajamas, Chief Downing is perhaps best known for his admonition that “we should not demonize the Muslim Brotherhood.” That’s a rather strange position. Relying on Barry Rubin’s reporting, Poole notes that the Brotherhood’s “supreme guide,” Mohammed Badi, has just declared war against the United States. As Poole dryly adds, “the Brotherhood does a good job of demonizing itself.” I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that Downing made his remarks at an LAPD outreach event held at the Islamic Center of Southern California. The center just happens to have been founded by the Hathout brothers, Hassan and Maher, and they just happen to be longtime fans of Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna, and of the “freedom fighting” waged by Hezbollah. There’s nothing like outreach.
To present a realistic picture of what we’re up against, though, King would be well advised to reach out to Steve Emerson, Robert Spencer, David Yerushalmi, and Mordechai Kedar.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.