Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King kicked off his controversial hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response” this morning with a panel that included Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
The Long Island Republican opened the hearings by defending them from detractors who have said King is the real radical and that his hearings will damage the government’s relationship with Muslim Americans. King insisted the hearings were “the logical response” to the government’s increased efforts to thwart domestic terror plots. He also called on “responsible Muslim leaders” to work harder to discredit radicalization.
Ellison, who is Muslim, took issue with King’s assertion during his own statement, saying, “Violent extremism is a serious concern to all Americans.” “It’s true that some individuals, including some who are Muslim, are violent extremists,” Ellison offered in his statement, but “when you assign their violent actions to the entire community, you assign collective blame to the whole group.”
Dingell, who represents a state with a significant Muslim American community, suggested King’s hearings verge on McCarthyism. He said that, as former chair of a House investigative committee, he kept a picture of Sen. Joe McCarthy–the man who convened anti-communist hearings in the 1950s that smeared hundreds with unsubstantiated claims–to remind himself of what he didn’t want to become. He urged King to be careful that “we do not blot the good name of Arabs or Muslims or other Americans en masse.”
Ellison also insisted that working with the Muslim community is of critical importance to national security, since both Attorney General Eric Holder and independent studies have concluded that Muslim Americans have contributed greatly to foiling terrorism plots. Ellison said, “I am concerned that the focus of today’s hearing may increase suspicion of the Muslim community, making us all a little less safe.”
While concluding his statement, Ellison struggled through tears to tell the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 9/11 first responder who was killed trying to help people escape from the World Trade Center, though he was initially viewed with suspicion due to his faith.
According to a piece in the New York Times, “After Mr. Hamdani, 23, disappeared on Sept. 11, ugly rumors circulated: he was a Muslim and worked in a lab; he might have been connected to a terrorist group. Months later the truth came out. Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found near the north tower, and he had gone there to help people he did not know.”
The King hearings continue through the afternoon, with testimony from Muslim American community leaders. King has said that he was outraged in the weeks following 9/11 by the way in which Long Island Muslim community leaders failed to denounce radical voices whom, he says, supported terrorism against the United States. The hearings are meant to explore both the extent of so-called radicalization in Muslim communities nationwide and the responsibility of community leaders for challenging that.