Opinion Roundup: Muslim Radicalization Hearings

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Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is preparing to hold House hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims. Opponents complain the hearings amount to a witch hunt, while supporters argue they will offer insight into the extent of the threat of homegrown terrorism.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

And now the Opinion Page. On Thursday, New York Republican Peter King holds hearings on the radicalization of Muslims in America. The witness list has not been released, but King says he will call American Muslims, including Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, to testify before his House Homeland Security Committee.

Al-Qaeda is recruiting right under our noses, King told The Associated Press. We're not going to cave in to political correctness. This is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community, and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what's happening.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): It's people in the Muslim community - a small, small minority, but it's within that community who are cooperating with al-Qaeda as part of an international movement against the United States.

CONAN: In New York over the weekend, hundreds gathered to protest, including Rabbi Marc Schneier.

Rabbi MARC SCHNEIER: These hearings that Peter King is promoting for his own political gain will create a rippling effect of even more hate, and so what we want to do is offset that hate.

CONAN: Supporters say the event will provide insight into the undeniable links between domestic terrorism and American Muslims. Opponents say the hearings are nothing more than a witch hunt. What do you think? 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to read from excerpts from a number of opinions. For example, Seema Jilani writes in The Guardian, the British newspaper, that Peter King is the new Joseph McCarthy: The wheels are already in motion for your political circus, apologist clowns in tow. It is clear that your goal is simply to disseminate your smear campaign and to both capitalize on and stoke unfounded fears by further stigmatizing a demographic already struggling with a typecast. So, if you are asking who I am, Mr. King, allow me to answer. I am American. I am Muslim. I am a doctor. I am a daughter. I am a sister. To speak your language, I am a hard-working, God-fearing, taxpaying patriot. I am a woman who, right about now, is wondering whether I need to pack for an internment camp. I know who I am. I am comfortable with all those labels; it is you who are not.

This much I know to be true: You need me. You need a villain to demonize with your lofty rhetoric. It allows you to keep up your wily pretence of protecting America from the grip of Islamo-Commie terrorists. Radical Islam is indeed a threat - mostly to us Muslims, but it will not be conquered by your humiliating McCarthy-esque public defamations.

On the other side, Zuhdi Jasser writes in the New York Post that the more attention people pay to radical Islam, the better: America needs to be unashamed of taking the side of those Muslims who advocate reform against political Islam. In 2011, more Americans need to understand that jihadism is a natural byproduct of political Islam that is incompatible with Western secular democracies based in liberty. America is at war with theocratic Muslim despots who seek the imposition of sharia and don't believe in the equality of all before the law, blind to faith. They detest the association of religious freedom with liberty. We need a coordinated national strategy of offense that gives Muslim youth an Islamic counter-narrative that defends liberty and that separates mosque and state. The idea of the Islamic state must be left for history. It is time to help usher in a modern era for Islam and Muslims. Our national security depends on it.

Again, we want to hear from you. 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org.

And let's see if we can begin with Henry, and Henry is with us from Xenia in Ohio.

HENRY (Caller): Hi. Yes. I - well, I'm retired Air Force, a lifelong Democrat, lean left, and I volunteer with some conservative guys at a local museum. And I occasionally listen to talk radio, and I'm appalled at really what were the way that people talk about Muslims. We wouldn't put up with this if blacks were being talked about like that or Jews or a woman or white men, but it's simply appalling the hate out there and the - I mean, the made-up stuff.

CONAN: Well, that's on talk radio. What about these hearings in particular?

HENRY: Well, the hearings, too. I mean, he's off on a vent, like one of us who have said about the McCarthy hearing. You know, there's no - he was friends of the Muslims, as I understand, way back - I don't know -what, a couple of months ago or whenever?

CONAN: It would have been more than a few months ago, yeah.

HENRY: Yeah. Oh, okay. But, you know, this is all being driven by the Tea Party and the right-wing radios and everything and just getting everyone riled up. People have to start standing up against this. I do. And - yeah.

And in, you know, small organizations, when we hear about - when other people mention that Islam isn't a religion, we need to stand up and, you know, just confront them face-to-face.

CONAN: Henry, thanks very much for the call.

HENRY: Thank you. Yeah.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Jerry, Jerry with us from Conklin in Tennessee. Excuse me.

JERRY (Caller): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

JERRY: Yeah. First of all, when that guy said McCarthyism, if people go to the congressional record and actually read what happened instead of going from newspaper reports say what - you know, they might find something else different in history.

But what that man said just a moment ago about if people talked about Jews like this, they wouldn't put up with it. Well, last weekend, the leader of the Nation of Islam again called the Jews devils, called them Satan again. So that's Louis Farrakhan we can always...

CONAN: I think the Nation of Islam is quite distinct from...

JERRY: Right.

CONAN: ...the groups that...

JERRY: Anyway, like I said, even calling the Jews Satan. But if we go back to a document that was from the...

CONAN: And...

JERRY: ...White Brotherhood...

CONAN: ...we're talking about this particular set of hearings.

JERRY: Correct.

CONAN: So...

JERRY: This is what the Muslim Brotherhood said, that they must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within. Now, this is in a document that was aired in 2007 Holy Land trial. I mean, if you look at actually what they say and go by the documents, instead of people just throwing terms around - I mean, it's out there. If people choose to get out and actually look and do research on what is said, I think they might learn something instead of just throwing the term McCarthyism around, which they know very little about.

CONAN: Holy Land was the Muslim charity that was convicted of charges of funding terrorist organizations overseas. Jerry, thanks very much for the call.

Now here's an email from Kristen(ph) in Long Island: My personal stance regarding King's Muslim radicalization hearings is that it doesn't hurt to look into this matter. We need to understand the situation so our society can move forward free of harm from people who may try to attack us. Being a Long Islander, the threat feels imminent. I feel honest people will have nothing to hide or fear as long as everyone doesn't become radical with their views and opinions.

Point I should mention that Peter King's district is on Long Island in New York.

And this from Anne(ph) in Palo Alto: I would have no objection to hearings on homegrown terrorism if they also examine the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the shootings of abortion doctors or lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan, all done by homegrown terrorists and none having anything to do with Islam.

I'll read another editorial. This one from former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, who supports the hearings. He wrote for the conservative website Newsmax and likened the hearings to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's executive order that interned Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Congressman King is now seeking to protect America and the Muslim-American community. How? By holding hearings on whether or not the American-Muslim community is becoming radicalized and giving aid and comfort to America's enemies.

Remember, we are at war with Islamic terrorists who, according to the U.S. government, have al-Qaida cells at work in 62 countries. Islamic terrorists have made it clear they want to kill Americans - men, women, and children.

If the hearings establish that the American-Muslim community, like the Japanese-American community during World War II, is devoted and loyal to the United States, wouldn't that be of enormous assistance in protecting members of the American-Muslim community from the charges that have been made against them?

That's Ed Koch, the former congressman and mayor of New York, arguing the hearings could increase security for Muslims in America, not the other way around.

Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez writes: The hearings amount to a dog-and-pony show. He said, as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, King is ostensibly investigating the radicalization of American-Muslims. From all accounts, what the gruff Long Islander seeks is a show trial, in which American-Muslims will have the opportunity to make, in his words, full-throated, intense denunciations of all terrorist activities. In other words, he wants them to prove their loyalty to the United States.

To be clear, King does not think all Muslims are a threat to the U.S. He says he has no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are good people. But he wants Muslim leaders to condemn any potential bad apples.

Rodriguez continues, what King will get, if he gets any cooperation at all, will be little more than a dog-and-pony show. It will explain nothing and reveal less about the sources of homegrown terrorism.

Let's go next to Khalid(ph), Khalid with us from Winston-Salem.

KHALID (Caller): Yes, sir. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

KHALID: Yes, sir. I'm a Muslim. I have been living in the United States for the last two years. And I would like to say that I'm proud of my religion. I'm a Muslim. I'm originally from Iraq and have only come to the United States to get educated and go back to my country in order to build bridges or understanding between my people and the people of the United States.

There is no such thing that Islam preaches jihadist and killing all Western and Americans in particular. My religion preaches that - and my prophet preaches that - he who kills a human being as if has killed all human beings, and he who saves a human being is as if has saved all the human beings.

I would say that such hearing will only create feelings of hatred, especially from the Muslims' side in the United States because such hearing will create a stimulus which - to which the response would create the action to which there will be a reaction, a dangerous one. And I think those people should stop labeling every Muslim a jihadist and terrorist. Someone...

CONAN: Well, even Congressman King has been very specific about this. He's saying, of course, the great majority of Muslims are not radicals and terrorists.

KHALID: Well, actually such hearings and the topics per se would create feelings of hatred because Muslims in United States - I'm one of them -would feel offended because whenever someone commits a crime, if it's -if that person is Muslim, is considered a jihadists and terrorist. When someone commits a crime who is not a Muslim, is considered a criminal.

Remember, last year, there was a group of Christians who set off some bombs in Midwest and some of the states. There were trying to attack the police, and they were only considered a militia. They were not referred to as Christians. And with that - but also, we should not be biased when referring to criminal Muslims. They should be taken to trial and not be labeled as jihadist and have been only doing that because they are Muslims.

CONAN: Khalid, thanks very much for you call. Appreciate it.

KHALID: No problem.

CONAN: On The Opinion Page this week, we're gathering opinions on the hearings to be held later this year by the House Homeland Security Committee on radicalization of American-Muslims. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Rick in Kansas City.

RICK (Caller): I just wanted to say I'm not sure the value of Representative King's hearings. Radicalism in the Muslim community is a real issue. I've seen evidence of it in the local community. For instance, in the wake of 9/11, there was a local imam who spoke before a college class, and he told those kids that Israelis flew those planes into the Twin Towers by remote control.

CONAN: Well, that's obviously inaccurate.

RICK: That's what?

CONAN: That's obviously inaccurate.

RICK: Right. But, I mean, I just wanted to say that I think there's -beyond the obvious acts of terrorism by American-Muslims, there's a strain of radicalism in the community that's a real threat. And I'm not sure that hearings are the best way to tackle it.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. The executive director of Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera, writes in The Progressive that Peter Kings' past claims, including one that 85 percent of American mosques promote fundamentalism, are doing just the opposite of what the hearings are supposed to achieve. Such unwarranted suspicion may even provoke Americans to hateful action or violence toward their Muslim neighbors as we saw happen in communities in New York and Tennessee last summer.

Instead of targeting Muslim citizens en masse, King should focus on criminal activity and actual threat to our nation's security. She adds, to keep us safe, Congress should focus on the full spectrum of violent extremist threats, including threats from neo-Nazis, skinheads, militias and other violent fringe groups whose numbers the Southern Poverty Law Center reports are at an all-time high.

With less than half of Americans saying at a recent poll they actually know someone who is Muslim, it is clear Americans still have a lot to learn about their Muslim neighbors. Treating Muslims as though they are somehow predisposed to violence is wrong and goes against our shared commitment as Americans to fairness and to justice. An again, from Farhana Khera in The Progressive.

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht says he understands the concerns that American-Muslims have about these hearings, but their useful is too important not to hold them. Gerecht says, Representative King can do us all a favor by focusing on two things: The FBI and DHS's counterterrorist competence and the foreign funding of America's mosques and Muslim institutions.

Instead of asking officials in the FBI and DHS whether American-Muslim leaders have been helpful in combating Islamic radicalism and terrorism in the United States, which according to press reports is what King may do, the chairman should query the Bureau and Homeland Security about how knowledgeable their field officers and analysts are.

He continues, there's nothing wrong with America's elected representatives being doggedly curious about the activities of Muslim militants. It's not bigotry to engage in such questioning. On the contrary, a desire to fight bigotry, let alone terrorism, should motivate our representatives to be much more curious than they have been so far about Wahhabis and Muslim Brothers in our midst.

And if any crude Islamophobes rear their ugly heads in these hearings, then Chairman King should be grateful for the opportunity to embarrass them. McCarthyism died, let us recall, in great part because its most egregious practitioners were publicly shamed.

And this - an email from AJ - and I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. I'm a Sikh-American. Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims. I think if the hearings are held in a positive light and not be a witch-hunt, they are fine. They should not inflame the feelings amongst the people. After all, the majority of terrorist acts against us are being carried out by Muslims, so there is no harm in trying to get to the bottom of this in our country so we can stop the radicalization of the youth.

And we want to thank everybody who wrote to us and who called. And we'll put a full version of all the excerpts that we read from on our website. Just go to nrp.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Tomorrow, we'll be talking about Iraq. The deadline for the withdrawal of American troops there is the end of this year. Negotiations are reportedly underway for an extension. Should U.S. troops stay in Iraq? Should they go? An update on Iraq next time on TALK OF THE NATION.

I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.

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