Commentary | Constructing the enemy

Representative Peter King’s alienation of the Muslim American community is unacceptable

On March 10, Peter King, New York Congressional representative and chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security convened his highly controversial hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” Outraged Americans have compared these hearings to Cold War McCarthyism and accused them of being unconstitutional. Those supporting them feel that King is bravely addressing an important issue without fearing the repercussions of political incorrectness.

While there are countless highly problematic aspects to these hearings, I would like to discuss what I found to be the most troubling statement in King’s address: “There is no equivalency of threat between al-Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, or other isolated madmen. Only al-Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation.”

King went on to accuse Muslim Americans of not taking a stance against radicalization and terrorism. However, a study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security found that in 48 out of 120 cases, the initial tip that alerted authorities to potential terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslim Americans came from within the community, which constitutes the single largest source of information. This same study also found that while there were twenty terror plots associated with Muslim Americans in 2010, a greater number were associated with  non-Muslim Americans.

By claiming that al-qaeda and Islamists are America’s only threat, King is simply drumming up panic, anxiety, and misguided anger toward the Muslim community. In his supposed attempts at promoting American security, King wrongfully casts friends as enemies. Though he claims to believe that “the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans,” in the same breath he falsely accuses the community of being tacitly supportive of terrorism.

One of King’s three witnesses included Melvin Bledsoe who explained how his son Carlos converted to Islam and then attempted to burn a rabbi’s home and shoot an U.S. Army private. King obviously chose to include this testimony to illustrate the validity of the pervasive American paranoia of Islamist plots to “take over” the United States by brainwashing non-Muslims. While King never addressed this anxiety outright, it clearly underlies the hearings. What was not said at the hearing was that Carlos Bledsoe (now called Abdul Hakim Muhammad) was a gang member with a history of violence and drug abuse prior to his conversion, meaning that the result of his behaviour before and after his conversion were more or less the same.

King has obviously stopped thinking of Muslim Americans as American citizens or, more importantly, people. Anyone who has been falsely accused in this manner would feel at the very least indignant and certainly much less willing to cooperate with those who have insulted them. Placing the blame for American violence on Islam is not only unjust and unwarranted, but will create many more problems than it will solve.

Fortunately, there is another side to this story. While a poll done by the Public Religious Research Institute found that 56 per cent of Americans believe King’s hearings are a good idea, 72 per cent believe that the hearings should deal with all religious extremism rather than just Islamism, a view shared by interfaith leaders who oppose the government targeting of a religious group and have been protesting under the slogan “I am a Muslim too.” Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, made a powerful statement against the hearings, saying that the “committee’s approach to violent extremism is contrary to American values, and threatens our security.” These sources seem to agree that terror related to religious extremism is a valid concern of the government, but singling out the Muslim community is neither the best nor the right way to address the issue.

Mallory Hennigar is a U2 World Religions and English Literature Major. She can be reached at mallory.henniger@mail.mcgill.ca. Video of the hearing is available at: peteking.house.gov.

 

 


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