Representative Peter King (R-TX) chaired a third hearing on “Muslim radicalization” this morning. These hearings increasingly look like the work of a man desperate to prove something. In his opening remarks, he called out the “politically correct, equivalency media” like the New York Times, who he claimed was trying to get him to refocus these hearings “away from Muslim American radicalization.” And, he said he would not back down.
The hearings have become a great travesty for this country and they get Americans nowhere closer to understanding terrorism or whether groups pose a distinct threat to the “homeland.” There may be some important tidbits of information within these hearings worth noting but the information is eclipsed by the fact that a self-aggrandizer known as Peter King is organizing these hearings. The information is overshadowed entirely by the fact that this man insists on being prejudiced on the issue of terrorism and will not expand the focus of the hearings to look at all people who might pose a threat to this country.
Is it any surprise that has a perverted idea of what constitutes terrorism? This is the same congressman who in January of this year tried to get the US Treasury Department to add WikiLeaks and its founder to the Specially Designated National and Blocked Persons List (SDN List).
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) used her speaking time expertly during the committee to expose the blindness of King’s hearings. Calling or a hearing on right wing extremists and ideologues who advocate for violence and advocate terrorism, she introduced an FBI statement on “members & associates of a white supremacist group charged with making grenades and selling guns” into the record. She also entered into the record an Illinois white supremacist group’s hit list from an FBI agent indicating plans to assassinate a lawyer that has battled hate groups. And, she entered into the record a thirty-nine page list of US hate groups that exist in the country as of 2000.
Noting her concern with how these hearings isolate certain groups, this time Somali Americans, she had a witness, St. Paul Chief of Police Tom Smith, testify that white supremacist’s are as challenging of a threat as anyone who might be radicalized by Al Shabaab. [cont’d.]
Jackson-Lee concluded her remarks saying “the difficulty with these hearings is it may provide information but it may provoke unnecessarily individual communities that are trying to do their best.” And, she added:
This is such a poor time for this hearing. If you want to know about the devastation of a nation, these are the innocent Somalis who are fleeing a famine that is the worst famine in the history of Africa at this point. So, I simply raise the question if we are going to be constructive let us be constructive by writing the right legislation, getting Chief Smith more dollars because you have proven effective and the young people of your community, Somalians, have come to hear you talk about another way of life.
Rep. Yvette Clarke told off Rep. King for seeing to it that Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota was not able to speak, even though he has a constituency of Somali Americans—the exact group of Somali Americans that were being discussed at the hearing. She, too, condemned the lack of broad focus:
Radicalization is cross cultural, cross religious cross ethnic for us to focus on very specific ocmmunities and not putting the full gamut in perspective opens us up to the disdain of others. That then perpetuates the notion that we’re trying to combat. I really want to discourage us from stigmatizing and ostracizing communities. This is a nation of diversity and for generations Muslims have been a part of the fabric of this nation. For us to focus in and say Muslim Americans specifically are this threat when I can also talk about gang radicalization, domestic terrorism in my community. I don’t see the same type of resources being put into communities that are poor where young people are being jumped into gangs. And, I think that the lives that have been taken from that type of activity is just as valid. So, we need to take a look at our motives here and certainly wanting to educate the public is fine but when we become fixated on a particular group of people we take our eyes off the prize. And then we become even more vulnerable because the unexpected happens. The unexpected happens like in Norway.
King pushed back on this saying that Canadian Somali Congress National President Ahmed Hussen did not think these hearings stigmatized Muslims. He had said these hearings were empowering his community.
King was correct. Hussen had said this in his testimony, but in doing this, King tokenized Hussen, making him the representative of all Muslims. That is not surprising given King’s Islamophobia in general. And, Rep. Clarke called Rep. King out:
CLARKE: Mr Hussen is entitled to his opinion. He is one man of a massive group of people. And he’s entitled to his opinion. He’s from Canada. And I don’t know what his relationship is to the Somali American community here in the United States.
KING: Well, he explained that in his opening statement I thought…
CLARKE: Really? Did he? I didn’t get that…
KING: He works very closely with the Muslim American community, particularly the community of Minneapolis because of the nexus between Toronto and Minneapolis.
CLARKE: With all do respect, that is a relative perspective. Working closely…
KING: Unlike you or I, he is active in the Muslim community.
Again, it’s not surprising that King would position the sole Muslim witness as the spokesperson for all Muslims. Patently ridiculous was the fact that he had a police chief sit down and testify about a community outreach program, the African, Immigrant & Muslim Community Outreach Program (AIMCOP), which sounds like a fine law enforcement program to ensure the FBI has better informants. The police chief talked about how he was building trust in the community, but no Somali Muslim from this community in Minnesota was invited to speak.
Finally, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) provided what might have been the best moment that exposed the bigoted absurdity of this convened hearing. Green was not speaking at the hearing as a member of the committee but as a guest. And, he chose to help the committee make sure nobody in the world would conclude this hearing was about suggesting all Somalis are radicals and need to be monitored and watched. He engaged Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in his questioning:
GREEN: We would not want person who are hearing what we are saying and witnessing what we are doing to conclude that we think all persons who are Somali are radicals and people to be watched and people to be monitored Is that a fair statement Mr. Joscelyn?
JOSCELYN: I think that’s a very fair statement
GREEN: You really didn’t come here to demean Muslims? Anybody come to demean Muslims?…Truth be told, radicals, people who want to hurt us, come in all forms, shapes and ethnicities.
Mr. Joscelyn, have you ever heard of a person called “Jihad Jane”? How tall was she? Was she under seven feet? Of course she was. You know she was? What color was her hair? You don’t know? Somebody knows. Mr. Joscelyn, what color was her hair?
JOSCELYN: It was either light brown or blond.
GREEN: Light brown or blond?
JOSCELYN: From my memory, yeah
GREEN: These are kinds of things you might want to take note of. What color — She did have eyes we all agree. What color were they? What color were her eyes? Don’t remember. Okay, well maybe you remember this. What was her complexion? (long pause) Not everybody at once please.
JOSCELYN: She was Caucasian, right?
GREEN: Yes, of European ancestry. Is that a fair statement? Is there some consternation with saying this? Does this take you out of your comfort zone to say this—?
JOSCELYN: Not at all.
GREEN: Does everybody agree that “Jihad Jane” was what we call in this country a white person? Would you kindly raise your hand?
King took deep exception, as one might expect to this line of questioning say what he was saying had no basis at all. Green said he didn’t expect King to get this. Green suggested that these questions were causing him discomfort because he was making it clear that there are persons out there “who look like what we don’t typically call a terrorist” who wish to commit terrorism.
“Jihad Jane” is Colleen LaRose. From a small Pennsylvania town called Pennsburg, she teamed up with a group to kill cartoonist Lars Viks and vowed to become a martyr. So, there is nothing wrong with pointing out that someone from suburban America who is white could commit terrorism except that wouldn’t jive with Peter King’s definition of terrorism, which right now is an act that he thinks only Muslim groups that hate the US can commit.
One last point, King’s Republican-controlled committee posted a report that claims forty Americans and twenty Canadians have left their respective countries to join Al Shabaab in Somalia. Those figures may be accurate, but how can one really know? The names of the current and former counterterror officials, scholars, diplomats and other experts on Shabaab and Muslim-American radicalization, who came up with these figures, are not listed. So, who are these people who claim forty Americans have joined Shabaab?
Did the majority staff of the Homeland Security Committee consult people like Walid Shoebat and Robert Spencer? Or were people more like Richard Clarke or Flynt Leverett consulted? Why should we take the figures in this report as fact?
In any case, these are some key highlights from today’s hearing. For more, visit the live blog of the entire hearing over at FDL’s The Dissenter.