Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will begin holding hearings Thursday on “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has characterized the hearings as “a witch hunt.” Are they?
King also has said he believes the “self-radicalization” of American Muslims represents “a very small minority” of the overall community. What are the potential consequences of singling out one religious group?
Terror terrorizes, congressional hearings bloviate, and there is very little so safe to ignore as a congressman’s speech. Congressional sins are those of excess: profligate spending, prostitution, and porcine projects.
This general rule makes it difficult to understand why some Americans are very worried about congressional hearings into American Islam and its radical fringe. Evidently a congressman, one whom most Americans until now have happily ignored, is investigating the radicalization of Islam. King’s speaking out has the chattering classes stuttering with rage.
Of course any concern about religious liberty is good, but on a week when traditional Christians, Muslims, and Jews may be losing the right to adopt children in secularized Britain, the amount of worry about King’s speeches seems odd. Bad people are killing Christians, Jews, and if they find one the rare atheist or two all over the world. Those bad people do so in the name of a perverse form of Islam.
Any sane man, and even a few congressmen, know that there are noble forms of Islam. Republicans are not, after all, hostile to traditional religion or eager to expand the power of government. Republican George W. Bush, who helped overthrow the Taliban, knew something about dealing with radical Islam, but he always clearly differentiated between the extremists and the rest. What Bush could do, we can be confident King will do.
Why worry about King’s speech?
Left-of-center groups worry about congressional hearings from conservatives because they know the power they left in the hands of Congress when they were in charge. The good news for Americans is that this House is the least likely of any Congress in decades to do anything aggressive. Conservatives back home are in no mood for national or foreign adventures and Republicans in Congress know it.
Congress does have a duty to legislate against enemies foreign and domestic. Investigating our enemies is one thing Congress should be doing.
Is Mr. King right to target radical Islam? There are two good reasons to oppose it: the danger of picking on an unpopular minority and ignoring other homegrown forms of terror.
Muslims are a tiny minority in the United States, often misunderstood and subject to bigotry. Americans are often unaware of the wide differences in beliefs amongst sects of Islam. Many American Arabs, a mostly Christian community, have been on the receiving end of prejudice as “Muslims.” This is particularly galling since many Arab Americans fled Islamic segregationist tactics and persecution.
This ignorance will not be cured by ignoring it. Congressional hearings are a great chance for mainstream Islamic groups to show they are a normal part of American life. Otherwise fear of American prejudice risks allowing terror groups to hide in the shelter of our tolerance.
There is also the risk that King’s investigation unfairly singles out one group, because it can be safely investigated. It was not Islam, radical or otherwise, that attacked Congresswoman Giffords. The lone lunatic motivated by weird ideology or paranoia fueled by perverting pop culture cannot be investigated.
Radical American Christians have killed in the name of Jesus and extreme secularists have murdered for Mother Earth. Homegrown terror groups such as the Klan continue to poison our culture with their noxious views, but these groups have been investigated by Congress without threat to mainstream Christianity, conservationists, or dissent. Congress has even investigated the spending habits of television evangelists without bringing liberty to its knees.
Joseph McCarthy abused congressional investigations and most are a waste of air. A few, however, such as investigations of the Klan, helped expose evil. The Klan hid under the bed linen of Christian America to kill, to terrorize, and to manipulate. Ripping off the hood helped marginalize these terrorists. Surely it worth investigating whether radical Islam is producing her own David Dukes hiding behind the veil of Islam.
There is no good reason not to investigate radical Islam. We know it exists, as we know the Klan exists. We know it hides in mainstream groups protected, in part, by group solidarity just as the Klan hid behind “Southern pride.”
Investigating radical Islam does threaten two widely believed American assumptions: immigrant groups always assimilate and the “American way of life” is irresistibly attractive to everyone. While cheering to Americans, there is good evidence that both beliefs are based more on prejudice than any kind of thinking. . . even the wishful sort. It has become easier, not harder, to exist as a fringe group in multicultural America and there is much to dislike in consumerist American culture.
Radical groups learn to hate our many virtues, because of our many vices. Evil men use the American libertines to attack liberty and this analysis attracts a few. An open society must tolerate some risk, but if the disaffected grow too numerous stamping them out will imperil our virtues–our liberties–long before they impact our vices–our libertine lifestyle. Already it is easier to hire a prostitute in Vegas than to get through Vegas airport security.
Vitally, the radical fringe of American Islam has one advantage that most of the lunatic fringe in America does not have: possible access to millions in foreign funding. A radical recently killed US airmen in Germany in the name of Allah. Christians, mainstream Muslims, and Jews are being killed all over the Middle East in the name of Islam. It is naive to think radical groups might not fund American counterparts. Mere thousands of radicals could do untold damage to an open society. The US government in the Bush and Obama administration has foiled numerous plots from such small groups.
Homegrown radical Islam is a present danger, but a risk our normally ceaselessly chattering classes scarcely can articulate. They hope that the FBI and Homeland Security will make it all go away while they remain blissfully ignorant. King threatens their serenity by looking for facts and this worries them more than terror threats. King’s speech on this topic has been temperate and his investigation will harm nobody.
His life may be put in more peril by his investigation than the lives of any he investigates.
God save Congressman King.