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Peter King hearings: Are American Muslims the problem or the solution?

A hearing chaired by Rep. Peter King to investigate radicalization within the American Muslim community touches on an important topic, terrorism experts say. But they question the tone.

By Staff writer / March 10, 2011

Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, listens during a hearing entitled 'The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response,' held on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Thursday, March 10.

Alex Brandon / AP



Emotions ran high at Thursday’s hearing investigating radicalization within the American Muslim community – the first hearing of a probe that Republicans say will continue at least until the 2012 elections.

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“I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward, and they will,” said the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, during his opening statement. “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee: to protect America from a terrorist attack.”

Radicalization is a legitimate target for a congressional panel charged with homeland security, says Bruce Hoffmann, director of the Center for Peace and Security studies at Georgetown University. But the challenge with today’s hearing is that the topic – “The extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community’s response” – appears to put the onus on the American Muslim community as the source of the problem.

In fact, “the Muslim community itself is the solution to this challenge, not the problem,” says Professor Hoffman, who has studied terrorism and insurgency for more than 30 years.

Democrats criticized the narrow focus on the Muslim community and urged the committee to investigate the spike in white supremacist groups – and the communities supporting them – as well.

“I cannot help but wonder how propaganda about this hearing, focused on the American Muslim community, will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) of Mississippi, the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D) of Minnesota, one of two Muslims in Congress, shed tears as he described the false charges leveled against Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a first responder who was killed in the 9/11 attacks.

"I am concerned that the focus of today's hearing may increase suspicion of the Muslim American community, ultimately making us all a little less safe," he said.

King challenged critics who claimed that the hearings amounted to a witch-hunt targeting the entire Muslim community.

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” he said. “Indeed, Congressional investigation of Muslim American radicalization is the logical response to the repeated and urgent warnings which the Obama administration has been making in recent months.”

Despite the sharp partisan clashes in today's hearing, there is broad agreement between Republicans and the Obama administration that Islamic radicalization is a growing concern.

Rising threat of American-born Muslim terrorists

The most recent alarm was sounded by the Obama administration's top intelligence chief at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, on current and future worldwide threats to the United States.

We are seeing "disturbing instances of self-radicalization among our own citizens,” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.


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