Peter King’s Muslim hearings: Trust is the key to our shared security

People attend the “Today, I Am A Muslim, Too” rally in New York City March 6, 2011. The rally was … Continued

People attend the “Today, I Am A Muslim, Too” rally in New York City March 6, 2011. The rally was held in response to the upcoming Congressional hearings led by Peter King (R-LI) to protest the targeting of American Muslims and Arabs. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

By Ingrid Mattson

I am in no position to determine Rep. Peter King’s motives for his hearings on “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.” Is Rep. King approaching this issue sincerely and with integrity, or is he indulging in bigotry? I can’t answer this question and, in any case, my concerns are larger. My first concern is that the Republican Party is coming to be associated with Islamophobia, and King’s hearings seem to be contributing to this trend. My greater concern is that, while individuals are attracted to radical ideas for many different reasons, perceptions of marginalization and persecution for one’s beliefs or identity are well-documented contributors to radicalization.

A friend of mine who recently retired from the Army Reserve after more than twenty years of service has been a lifelong Republican. A small business owner with a strong belief in limited government, she told me that she even agreed with much of the political philosophy of tea party with their emphasis on reducing the scope of the federal government. This distinguished veteran was alarmed and frustrated, however, that as a Muslim, there seems to be no place for her in American conservative politics. I have heard the same lament from other American Muslims with the same political leanings.

The opportunistic use of Islamophobia in the last presidential and midterm elections by a number of Republicans could only be seen as an attack on the patriotism of all Muslim Americans. The only good Muslims, it seems, are those who renounce their religion, or at least, disassociates themselves from their communities. Maybe the political right has made the calculation that they do not need the votes of American Muslims, and that demonizing Islam will “rally their base” bringing even more votes. What a sad and cynical political calculation this is, and a violation of the obligation of all seeking public office to represent all Americans. No matter what one’s political affiliation, we should all acknowledge that we are less secure domestically and internationally if one of the two major political parties in the United States is associated with hatred of Muslims.

I was speaking this morning, for example, with an influential businessman in Kuwait. Recall that substantial U.S. resources – both financial and human – were expended to defend Kuwait from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. The first thing this man told me is that he was alarmed by the Peter King hearings and worried that it demonstrated an increasing hostility in America to Muslims. I am sure that he is not the only Kuwaiti, much less the only Muslim in an allied nation, who has heard about the hearings and has similarly interpreted them as an attack on Islam. I am certain that hostile regimes are actively promoting this view.

Why should we care about this? The fact is that such perceptions contribute to the attractiveness of the radical message. As Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama has said, ” – based on extensive investigations, research and profiles of the violent extremists we’ve captured or arrested, and who falsely claim to be fighting in the name of Islam, we know that they all share one thing–they all believe that the United States is somehow at war with Islam, and that this justifies violence against Americans.”

Now, this is not the first time that news of hostility expressed towards Muslims by some American politician or government official has circulated around the world. Fortunately, in those cases, and today as we discuss the King hearings, responsible leaders are giving a different message, and this is what I told my Kuwaiti friend and asked him to convey to others. As always, many American faith leaders – Christian, Jews, Sikhs and others – have stood up for Muslim Americans. Sunday, hundreds of people attended the “Today I am a Muslim Too” rally organized by Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

For his part, Denis McDonough made the above statement Sunday in a meeting at the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Virginia. In his compelling speech, McDonough expressed the Obama administration’s consistent message that Muslim Americans are making positive contributions in all areas of life – as valued physicians, intellectuals, athletes, entertainers and scientists – and have been eager partners in trying to refute the message of the extremists and bring greater security to the nation.

It is important to recognize that McDonough did not deny the fact that al-Qaeda has been successful in recruiting some Muslim Americans to their radical and violent ideology. He rightly noted, however, that the Muslim American community is at least as concerned, if not more, than other Americans about this. After all, worldwide, the vast majority of people killed in al-Qaeda inspired attacks have been other Muslims – soldiers and policemen, doctors and nurses, teachers and ordinary people trying to build their own countries and make better lives for their families.

On the domestic front, as on 9/11, Muslims would perish in any attack on American civilians. For the last 10 years, Muslim Americans have shared the heightened level of anxiety of other Americans as we walked through Times Square, descended into the subway, or boarded airplanes with our children. This has been reason enough for Muslim Americans to contribute to the effort towards greater security. In addition to this real concern for our lives that Muslims share with other Americans, we are also emotionally and spiritually wounded by the misuse of our cherished religion to justify such attacks. It is the ultimate heresy. I can only imagine how devastating it would be to learn that one’s own child had been lured into radical ideology by the emotional manipulation of terrorist recruiters.

For the last ten years, since the terrorist threat became apparent, the Muslim American community has put enormous resources into disseminating fatwas against terrorism, organizing conferences and workshops to teach how to respond to the radicals’ message, and strengthening relationships with law enforcement.

At the same time, it is also true that some Muslim Americans are wary about working with law enforcement – especially the FBI – on this issue. Is this because they sympathize with the terrorists’ message as some suggest? In my conversations with some community leaders and ordinary Muslims, their wariness comes from a lack of trust in law enforcement. For many immigrants, this wariness immigrated with them when they fled authoritarian regimes where the intelligence services committed the worse violations of human rights. For Americans who lived through the worst abuses of COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 1970s, their trust was broken long ago. As Fordham University professor Brian Glick’s book War at Home demonstrates, many Americans are still concerned that the FBI has not abandoned unethical practices in their investigations.

Is it only conspiracy-theorists and those subscribing to marginal political views who are wary of the FBI? Not at all. A 2008 survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists showed that “Only 35 percent of scientists would share research results with the FBI. By comparison, 87 percent of the scientists said they would discuss their work with the public. ‘They would rather talk with a total stranger from the general public than an FBI agent about their research,’ says Michael Stebbins, the director of biology policy at the Federation of American Scientists. Stebbins helped plan the survey. ‘That is just shocking to me,’ he says. ‘To see that so many of them didn’t trust the FBI on a fundamental level really showed that there is an uphill battle that the FBI has to face.'” Perhaps even more telling is the fact that only 12% of scientist sent the survey even responded. An NPR story about this suggests that the FBI’s accusation of an innocent army scientist in their investigation of the 2001 anthrax killings made many scientists wary of working with the FBI.

Because of these concerns, major Muslim American organizations and communities around the country have invited the FBI to hold town hall forums and meetings to build trust. We recognize that effective intelligence gathering is essential to our common security. Muslim Americans must have confidence in law enforcement so they will call when they suspect that someone might be up to no good. It is because we understand the importance of trust that many of us are troubled by some of the sting operations and planting of what seem to be agent provocateurs in some incidents, while in other cases, individuals reporting suspicious activities have been pressured to become informants.

Now, while the majority of Americans would probably have little reluctance to make a call to the FBI to report suspicious activity, I suspect that the majority would not want to take on the risk to themselves and their families of becoming informants. Putting this kind of pressure on an individual who only wants to report suspicious behavior can deter others from making a similar call in the future. In addition, I have heard from at least one community that they did not call the FBI when a new person spouting extremist beliefs turned up in their mosque because they were sure he was sent by the government to lure others who might have extremist views, as they read had happened in some other communities. The result was a kind of “cry wolf” effect, where the community, certain that this individual was not a legitimate threat (as turned out to be the case), simply shunned him and he quickly disappeared. This is exceedingly dangerous and if the King hearings can focus on how to better build trust and maintain effective communication between law enforcement and Muslim American communities, they could make a positive contribution.

Ingrid Mattson, PhD
Director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT

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  • YEAL9

    Getting to the heart of the problem:The koran, Mohammed’s book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein. Until then, no male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere.

  • abrahamhab1

    This is no more than a feeble attempt by the author at justifying the actions and inaction of the Muslim community. I wish she and others would not lump Arabs with Muslims as one and the same since most of the Arabs in this country are not Muslims.

  • devilsadvocate3

    It is a shame that for each step forward in one area, our country always takes a few steps back in another. As a Christian, an American, a Veteran I find this hearing disturbing. I have had the privilege of growing up, studying, and traveling both abroad (including the Middle East) and throughout the US. Only in America has my faith ever been viewed through a narrow lens or ridiculed. I am not so blinded by my faith that I fail to acknowledge that within each faith, each political ideology are radicals/zealots so blinded by their own worldview that they willingly seek to kill others. This is not a “Muslim” phenomenon. To hold a hearing targeting a specific faith/cultural group goes against every thing granted in the Constitution. If Rep. King is truly concerned about radicalism in the US than the hearing should focus on the radicalism inherent in everything from atheism to religion to political activisim/ideologies that can alienate members of society and destroy communities.

  • acknchip

    Peter king has had ties to the Northern Irish groups, Sinn Fein and the IRA. I quote Peter King; “The IRA has the same moral ground as the British Army.”

  • YEAL9

    Source of King’s quote?

  • persiflage

    From Wiki:In the 1980s, King frequently traveled to Northern Ireland to meet with IRA members. In 1982, speaking at a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County, New York, King said: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” In 1985, he convened a press conference before the start of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade (for which he was Grand Marshal), and offered a defiant defense of the IRA: ‘As we march up the avenue and share all the joy,’ he declared, ‘let us never forget the men and women who are suffering and, most of all, the men and women who are fighting.’Regarding the 30 years of violence during which the IRA killed over 1700 people, including over 600 civilians, King said, “”If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it”. King compared IRA leader Gerry Adams to George Washington and asserted that the “British government is a murder machine”. He called the IRA “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland.”King is apparently against terrorism, except when he’s for it. He was a staunch defender of our own rights violating, fascist resembling Patriot Act. Although always high on John McCain, he became a big Bush supporter behind the invasion of Iraq.

  • hitman2

    Someone of you, YAEL9 who wrote against Quran Read what the educated elite thinks and be ashamed of your hate filled cut/pasting.Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson is the Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA. Formerly, he was Professor of Ob-Gyn and the Chairman of the Department of Ob-Gyn at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He was also the President of the American Fertility Society. He has received many awards, including the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology Public Recognition Award in 1992. Professor Simpson studied the following two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad : {In every one of you, all components of your creation are collected together in your mother’s womb by forty days…}2 {If forty-two nights have passed over the embryo, God sends an angel to it, who shapes it and creates its hearing, vision, skin, flesh, and bones….}3 He studied these two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad extensively, noting that the first forty days constitute a clearly distinguishable stage of embryo-genesis. He was particularly impressed by the absolute precision and accuracy of those sayings of the Prophet Muhammad . Then, during one conference, he gave the following opinion: “So that the two hadeeths (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ) that have been noted provide us with a specific time table for the main embryological development before forty days. Again, the point has been made, I think, repeatedly by other speakers this morning: these hadeeths could not have been obtained on the basis of the scientific knowledge that was available [at] the time of their writing . . . . It follows, I think, that not only there is no conflict between genetics and religion but, in fact, religion can guide science by adding revelation to some of the traditional scientific approaches, that there exist statements in the Quran shown centuries later to be valid, which support knowledge in the Quran having been derived from God.”

  • hitman2

    What Peter King is doing are political gemmicks to attain the American vote in 2012 elections.

  • hitman2

    Try to learn some lessons:Hamilton Alexander Roskeen Gibb(1895-1971) A leading orientalist scholar of his time “But Islam has a still further service to render to the cause of humanity. It stands after all nearer to the real East than Europe does, and it possesses a magnificent tradition of inter-racial understanding and cooperation. No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavours so many and so various races of mankind … Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition. If ever the opposition of the great societies of East and West is to be replaced by cooperation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition.

  • Farnaz2Mansouri21

    The interesting thing about Peter KIng is that throughout his IRA phase, he was a staunch “patriot” when it came to the US. He did not see then, nor, I’d wager, does he see now any contradiction in his views.He is enormously popular, adored, in fact, by his largely Roman Catholic supporters. He is the darling of the RCC both here and abroad. He also has strong defenders among his minority Protestant and Muslim constituents, and among the Hindus.He has lost some support among the Muslims he represents, but he has retained some, as well.Interesting–the King phenomenon. I should add that I personally know Catholics who cannot stand him, but he has proven unbeatable through the years.

  • persiflage

    ‘The politician once called the IRA “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland,” he was banned from the BBC by British censors for his pro-IRA views, and he refused to denounce the IRA when one of its mortar bombs killed nine Northern Irish police officers. But Mr. King is now one of America’s most outspoken foes of terrorism.”‘King wouldn’t be the first politician to re-invent himself in order to stay one step ahead of his voter constituency – and of course to further his aspirations with regard to the chairmanship of the House Homeland Security committee – all of this on his way to the U.S. Senate. Like many have said, Joe McCarthy all over again….The current republican strategy appears to be one of pitting middle class Americans against one another, and further polarizing that entire segment of the voter population. Every political ploy, and King’s latest move is a good example, is calculated to further divide the voter public. The latest assault in the House reported today, is against the wages of government workers….and during a time when millions of folks are out of work and would kill to have a government job of any kind. They are of course potentially both jealous and resentful of people that have those good jobs – let’s really piss them off, say the GOP. In the South, (white) federal workers are strongly republican as one might imagine. Every time they vote republican, they cut their own collective throats – and all because of their schooled dislike of democrats. Today’s congressional hearings on government wages is an excellent example. Obama was already forced to agree on a freeze on government cost of living increases for 2 years in order to secure an extension of unemployment benefits and other legislation – republicans in the House are without shame. Republicans count on their voter base on the one hand, but will throw those voters under the bus along with the rest of their democratic compatriots…..all because they must do the work of their corporate masters, at all costs. The democrats can really be spineless, but the republican zombies are the walking brain-dead, without a single creative solution or productive thought between them.Their seemingly mindless collective actions are as well synchonized and highly orchestrated as those of the Bolshoi ballet…but without an iota of the vast individual talent and artistry. To me, supporting republicans is, for the ordinary voter, the ultimate self-destructive act.

  • Farnaz2Mansouri21

    For more than three years, I have blogged against Islamophobia here, indulging in name-calling as a defense against those Muslims who spout antisemitic filth.Of late, and even of the remote past, I have not seen many (any) Muslims crying out against antisemitism (rather, they have been posting it), nor have I seen much hue and cry from amongst the Catholics, who spout the same bigotry. Therefore, realpolitik shall win out on this one, and I shall forgo Hillel for the moment. In other words, I’m going to sit this one out.Peter King is a lifelong, DEVOUT ROMAN CATHOLIC, who represents a largely Roman Catholic constituency that adores him and supports him in these hearings. The rest of his constituents are Protestants and Muslims, who have always supported him and voted for him. He has lost some Muslim defenders of late, but has retained some, as well.These hearings will not hurt his re-election. Not at all. He is adored not only by his Roman Catholic constituents, but by the RCC; indeed, the bishops bend over backwards when they see him coming.He’s their boy. I met him once. I was at a function at which he was present and allowed myself to be introduced to him. I do not like Roman Catholic arch-Conservatives, or, for that matter, most Roman Catholics, since I have found so many of them to be antisemitic. But the situation was awkward, so I permitted the introduction.I experienced what many had claimed–both those who defend him and those who can’t stand him. He was as charming and gracious as he could be when introduced to brown, Jewish, Democratic me, and did not seem taken aback by my color, religion, or politics. As a colleague who loathes him remarked to me later, “Not a bigot.”Perhaps not. Dunno. I do know this. ROMAN CATHOLIC Peter King is an issue for the ROMAN CATHOLICS and the Muslims.Enough Jews, including WaPo columnists, have spoken out against these hearings. The day I see Muslims speaking out against antisemitism, I’ll reconsider.

  • Farnaz2Mansouri21

    Ingrid Mattson writes:Sunday, hundreds of people attended the “Today I am a Muslim Too” rally organized by Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Now, here’s the thing, Ingrid, when was the last “Today I am Jewish Too” demonstration sponsored by Muslims?Where have been your columns condemning Muslim antisemitism, currently the predominant source, by far, of this racism–WORLDWIDE–in the form of physical violence, through films, on television, on the internet, in magazines, newspapers, books, including children’s textbooks, etc.Yesterday, for the first time, a Muslim OnFaith guest columnist condemned Muslim antisemitism, in response to a posting by me.I should add that Asra Nomani’s thread is littered with posts by Muslims, declaring she is not one of them. Did I miss your OnFaith postings on antisemitic violence? On Yemen, the end of its three-thousand-year-old Jewish civilization, for instance?I am merely asking.

  • abrahamhab1

    “No other society(besides Islam) has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavors so many and so various races of mankind … Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition.” Whoever said the above must not have lived on our planet. All he needed to do was look around to see how Muslims treat the followers of minority religions living among them. A passing glance at their scriptures would showcase their supremacist attitude and utter intolerance of the “other”.

  • ThishowIseeit

    How about a ” today I am a freethinker too”. It would make a lot of good sense, considering, Ingrid, that the moving tectonic plates in our planet prove that it was not made in an intelligent way and considering that a just deity would have never allowed the killing of million innocent babies and children by tsunamis and earthquakes and considering that there are in our planet species of obligate carnivores and obligate predators.