Republican congressman Peter King is moving ahead with his congressional hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” Should King be conducting such hearings? No. He seeks to make his mark as all bigoted demagogues do. He has announced in advance the outcome of the hearings, opining that there are too many mosques in the country and that nearly all of them are run by radical extremists.
Too many mosques? How many is too many? One thousand? One hundred? Ten? One? There are an estimated 2.5 million American Muslims. Aren’t they the ones who get to decide how many? Drive through the American south and count the Baptist churches. In some areas there is one every two blocks. Too many? Who decides, Peter King?
Are the majority of American Muslims members of mosques run by radical extremists? If so, then they must be sheltering terrorists. But the data on indigenous Muslim terrorism paint a very different picture. University of North Carolina Professor Charles Kurzman found that of the approximately 2.5 million American Muslims, the total number of terrorism suspects and perpetrators from 2001 to 2010 was a mere 161 individuals. Here are Kurzman’s data:
-The initial source of information for 25 of them is not known.
– For another 16, law enforcement only learned about them after the attacks were carried out.
– For the remaining 120 individuals, the largest single source of initial information: 48, involved tips from the American Muslim community. So the statistical evidence for homegrown support of Muslim terrorism is underwhelming (and dwarfed by the “Real American” variant: Timothy McVey and his co-conspirators accounted for more deaths than all other indigenous terrorists combined).
Should the Muslim community nevertheless be doing more? Here is an analogy. New York City law enforcement officials in the 1890’s claimed that East European immigrant Jews constituted 50% of the pickpockets, prostitutes and burglars, way out of proportion to their numbers in the city’s population. Despite the fact that no statistical evidence was produced, Jewish organizations took the charges seriously, and employed numerous means to get the numbers of Jewish criminals down. Should Muslims do the same? Of course. A community should always strive to do more to sanction its own criminals, whatever the statistics may show. That being said, it is arguably more dangerous for American Muslims. In the course of my membership in a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, the Muslim participants told us that they were physically threatened by their radicals. In the face of such a threat, 48 reports is a more than respectable number.
But if law enforcement officials already have a good handle on the extent of terrorism, what can hearings do? They can give an overview and interpretation of the law enforcement data, and consider the general issues of homeland security that go beyond the purview of law enforcement. In fact, there have already been numerous congressional reports examining Muslim terrorism. Senator Joseph Lieberman held 14 such hearings and then-Representative Jane Harman held six. But they were in the context of broader and fairer considerations. They dealt with specific issues of security in the face of any homegrown terrorism. Of course the question of Muslim terrorism arose–it would have been absurdly naive for the committees to ignore it. Some hearings addressed the implications of the Fort Hood massacre, some the recruitment of terrorists in various cities and in prisons. But none suggested the possible guilt of the entire American Muslim community.
Law enforcement officials can provide important information for Congress. But Congress can also provide a pretext for prejudicial law enforcement. The presence of a substantial number of Jews in the American Communist party, and the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 provided fodder for the McCarthy hearings the following year. These in turn set a tone in which law enforcement officials became overly enthusiastic in their search for Jewish Reds. My father’s cousin Sol, for example, who had been among the US Army combat troops who liberated the concentration camps, lost his government job. By no means a Communist, he went down the list of the names of those whose jobs were terminated and confronted his former boss: “You just fired all the Jews.” Peter King strives to fill the shoes of Joe McCarthy. If he has his way, innocent American Muslims will likewise be punished for the crimes of a few co-religionists.
Remarkably, non-Muslim Americans’ tolerance for their Muslim fellow citizens is well above that for Communists during the Cold War. But with enough provocation, this could change. So could the response of American Muslims. If they are threatened by both law enforcement and Muslim radicals then they will be less likely to report the terrorists in their midst. King is provoking just such a situation. He has chosen to disregard the conclusions of the Lieberman and Harman hearings (if he knows of them at all). But he should not be dismissed as a fool or a maverick. Joe McCarthy was both, and he ruined countless lives. King’s goal is nothing less: to make the lives of American Muslims–all American Muslims–as miserable as possible, and to ruin as many lives as he can. Decent people will fight to make sure he fails.
Jeffry V. Mallow