Thursday morning, the House Committee on Homeland Security will begin hearings on terrorism among American Muslims. The first hearing is titled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” Critics accuse the committee’s chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), of implying that all Muslims are guilty of terrorism by association. But King denies casting blame loosely among American Muslims. Instead, he now casts blame loosely among American Muslim “leaders.”
King was the first politician to speak out last year against a liberal, anti-terrorist American imam’s proposal to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. King called the project “particularly offensive” because “so many Muslim leaders have failed to speak out against radical Islam, against the attacks” of 9/11. Later, as paraphrased by the Associated Press, King said “ground zero may not be an appropriate spot for this or any proposed mosque.” These comments established King as a practitioner of collective blame.
In December, after his election as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, King tried to clean up his language. “The great majority of Muslims in our country are hardworking, dedicated Americans,” he conceded in a Newsday op-ed. Instead, he shifted his indiscriminate fire to Muslim “leaders.” In terrorism cases, he wrote, “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or—in most cases—no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.” King used similarly broad language in a recent New York magazine piece, warning American Muslims that “their current leadership is not serving them well.”
These sweeping allegations—particularly the claim that law enforcement agents “throughout the country” are getting little or “no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams”—don’t jibe with a study issued last month by a consortium of North Carolina university researchers. The study found that in cases where Muslim-American terrorist suspects were brought to the attention of U.S. officials, “the largest single source of initial information (48 of 120 cases) involved tips from the Muslim-American community.”
Last Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Candy Crowley cited the North Carolina study and asked King, “Doesn’t that tell you there is cooperation there?” King replied: “No. I’m aware of a number of cases in New York where the community has not been cooperative.” King cited a guy who “went to two mosques in Suffolk County in Long Island, said he wanted to engage in jihad. They said we don’t do it, but never told the police. And then he went off to Afghanistan. So there’s just one example. I can give others.” But King has never named more than three or four such cases. In his March 6 profile, New York’s Robert Kolker reported that King “refuses to name the sources who claim Muslims are uncooperative,” claiming that “they’re always off the record with him.”
Monday on Fox News, King said his upcoming hearings would feature an American Muslim who “feels very strongly that the current Muslim leadership is not doing its job.” A day later, King told the same network that when Muslims come forward to report suspicions of dangerous extremism, “they do not get the cooperation from the imams and from their leaders.” He brushed off the North Carolina study, accusing its authors of “leaving out any number of terrorist financing cases which there was no support from the Muslim community on.”
Through this phrase—the “Muslim community”—King has casually substituted unnamed Muslim “leaders” for Muslim citizens as representatives of American Islam. Yesterday on MSNBC, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post told King, “You have alleged that the Muslim American community has not been forthcoming in helping law enforcement officials deal with radicalization.” King replied: “I talk to cops and counterterrorism people on the ground all the time, and they get virtually no cooperation.” Robinson accused King of assuming “that the Muslim American community, a religious minority in this country, is somehow abetting and aiding and giving shelter to this process of radicalization, when that is clearly not the truth.” King shot back: “It is the truth.”
King says Thursday’s hearing will address his “hypotheses” about extremism among American Muslims. That’s a good way to judge the proceedings. Let’s see whether he produces evidence that Muslim leaders in general are abetting radicalism, covering up for terrorists, or refusing to cooperate with law enforcement. If he doesn’t, the hearings may illuminate something else: not “the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community,” but the extent to which the “Muslim community” has become a slur for tarring all Muslims with the sins of a few.