Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hearings on Muslim Americans

I was fairly shocked to see this article earlier today. Apparently, the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Peter King (R-NY), is holding hearings on the dangers of Homegrown Terrorism. He is particularly concerned about a Pew Poll that said that 15% of Muslim American Men could support suicide bombings. The hearings appear to focus solely on the (perceived) danger posed by American Muslims. I am surprised that such a hearing is even legal. To me, it smacks of political posturing and shows just how far certain politicians will go towards pleasing their more xenophobic constituents.


PBM said...

Rep. King's past connection with State Dptmt. listed terrorist group.

Megan said...

I want to weigh in on this. I think the main problem with this hearing was it's name. The title "The Radicalization of American Muslims" gives the impression that American Muslims as a whole group are becoming more and more radicalized which is both untrue and offensive stereotyping. It also suggests that all American Muslims are susceptible to radicalization, which again is offensive and completely untrue.

That being said I think calling the threat of Muslim American extremists "perceived" is disrespectful to those who have died at the hands of Muslim American extremists.

I think the hearing addressed one important issue. The fact is that Al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremists do try to recruit some young Muslims (we know this because American Muslims tell us it is true), and although the VAST majority of young Muslim Americans are not susceptible and completely reject this interpretation of Islam, a few ARE susceptible. (just as if the KKK actively recruited young members of the Christian church, some would be susceptible to it's influence).

I think in any instance that our enemy is trying to recruit Americans to take up its cause, it is the responsibility of the government to look into it. And I think it is a problem that all Americans, especially Muslim Americans, want to address. Muslim Americans are HUGE victims of extremist terrorism in the way that it has affected how they are treated by some people in American society.

I also think there were some ridiculous claims made at the hearing. Particularly the claim that Muslim Americans should be doing more to combat Al-Qaeda. Many Muslim American groups ARE doing ALOT to combat Al-Qaeda (Muslim American tips have saved thousands of lives), and even if they weren't why do they have more of a responsibility than every American to combat terrorism? This assumes that all Muslim Americans have some sort of secret connection to Al-Qaeda which, again, is ridiculous.

I think there are two very real dangers in the debate about extremists. A.) the danger of stereotyping all Muslim Americans as a threat (which is very dangerous and very false. Muslim Americans have saved thousands of lives in their fight against terrorism) B.) the danger of looking the other way in the face of Muslim American extremism in trying to be politically correct (which happened in the instance of Fort Hood when a man was known to have extremist views AND be in contact with a member of Al Qaeda)

Basically, if Peter King was concerned about extremist recruitment techniques, holding this circus of a hearing was NOT the way to go about it. He should have weighed the costs and the benefits (the major cost being negative perceptions of Muslim Americans and possible anti-American Al-Qaeda leverage and the major benefit being NOTHING because as far as I can tell this hearing accomplished zero.) But I still don't think this issue should not be addressed in the name of political correctness.

PBM said...

Megan, I totally agree with you. I think this is an issue where partisan circus doesn't help anything. Republicans make themselves seem racist (religionist?), while Democrats try too hard to be politically correct. I just want one clarification of what you said. I thought that the Fort Hood shooter was a loner. I knew he was Muslim, but thought his problem was more mental and along the lines of having trouble being part of a war that he thought was against his religion. I never heard about the Al-Quaeda connection, but you very well could be correct about it.

The other thing I wanted to bring up is that I doubt Peter King investigates right-wing (I don't mean to bash everyone who has right-leaning beliefs, I just am not sure how else to say it) extremist groups like Hutaree, that have been surging in the US in recent months. See here:
Also, if you like Glenn Beck, don't be offended by the picture the article has, I don't mean to tie the two together, but the article does. It seems to me that these anti-government, violently anti-Obama, sometimes racist, heavily armed, whatever else you want to call them, groups represent a threat equal to that of Muslim extremists. It's too bad that in our extremely partisan democracy, some potentially harmful things are overlooked, while things that might not be so dangerous are zoomed in on with a microscope.

All extremism should be looked into an investigated in the same way, and I think it's wrong and overtly partisan for Rep. King to focus in on a large religious group with so much intensity.

Ian Thresher said...

The reason I used the word "perceived," Megan, is that while there have been a few attempts by American Muslims to commit terrorist attacks, only one, the Fort Hood attacker, as been successful. To answer Peter's question, no he did not have any contact with Al-Qaeda. He knew Al-Qaeda sympathizers, but never had any actual contact with the organization. I do not believe I am being politically correct in condemning a meeting that has very little practical effect, both in actuality and intent. This hearing would have been far better off if it focused on more tangible and dangerous threats (Border Security Militias, the extreme-right groups Peter mentioned, and general crime murder/rape/crime rates). Terrorism, in the grand scheme of the things that threaten Americans, is at the very bottom of the list. I feel that the narrow focus of this meeting, as you pointed out, is a major problem and while I do not have any objections in trying to combat Al-Qaeda's influence (at least as it applies to their propensity for violence), I think this risk is very low and that many other things should be addressed first. In other words, Republicans turned this into a media circus to trump up fear of a relatively small risk. I do not think calling attention to that is necessarily an attempt to be politically correct.

Megan said...

In the case of Fort Hood (which is the army base where I was born) the shooter, Nidal Hassan had exchanged 20 e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki who is a known recruiter for al-Qaeda. He frequently expressed anti-American, jihadist sentiment, which was largely ignored (9 army officers were punished for failing to recognize signs), and he shot almost 50 soldiers while yelling “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great). The media seemed largely puzzled by his motives and many media outlets blamed his fear of deployment as the motive for killing 12 people. (Compare this to the Tucson shootings in which the media connected the shooting to Republican rhetoric within minutes). This is not the only successful American Muslim extremist attack (there have been others including one in Little Rock-the killer's father was a witness at the hearing).

Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2009, the U.S. government reported forty-six incidents of "domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism" A quarter of these plots involved communication with Al-Qaeda.

Given that we are at war with Al-Qaeda and taking into account the destruction that Al-Qaeda has caused in countries all over the world, I don't think it is wrong to focus in on its influence in the United States. I think broadening the topic of this hearing would have made it even more useless than it already was.

That being said, all terrorist activity (including right wing terrorist groups, environmental groups etc.) SHOULD be addressed. I just don't think that is the purpose of the hearings.

I already expressed that I see many problems with the hearings: I think the name was misleading, the charges that Muslim Americans are not doing enough is ridiculous, the hearing could cause negative perceptions of Muslim Americans, the hearing could be used as extremist recruiting leverage, and the hearing accomplished nothing. I don't see the narrow focus of the hearing as a problem though.

PBM said...

You and Ian can duke it out over the Fort Hood shooting, but I have a problem with you lumping environmentalists with heavily armed right-wing militia groups.

I could be wrong here, and definitely correct me if you have evidence, but I don't believe that environmental groups have performed any acts of terrorism in the past 10-15 years. I know there are the "Whale Wars" people who use violent methods against Japanese ships that hunt whales (which is illegal), but other than that it seems that environmental groups are mostly active in non-violent actions. I know that they encourage people chaining themselves to trees or blocking bulldozers to prevent mountaintop removal (the destruction of mountains to obtain coal), and put controversial posters on Mt. Rushmore, but I haven't heard of any recent violent actions by environmental groups. There is also a strain of environmentalists who believe the world's environment would be better off without humans (and they're probably right) but I don't know that they act on these beliefs in violent ways. On the other hand, I know some of these fanatically anti-government right wing militia groups perform military drills with handguns, rifles, assault rifles, and other weapons inside our country.

So, overall, I would just say it is inappropriate to compare the two groups.

Megan said...

Patrick_Landers said...

I agree with what Megan was saying (I think- maybe I'm misinterpreting), though I'm adding in some of my opinions as well.

Basically, the politics of this were awful. However, I don't necessarily have a problem with investigating this topic- there is some past problems with it, and they could grow in the future. I'm not sure if Congress is the right forum for the investigation, just because it's a political institution so politics will always be involved- and it's a very tricky political issues. That's why other extremists should have also been considered- for valid policy reasons as well because they a big threat, but mostly for political cover.

Basically, I think the hearing was stupid policy and politics. I'm not certain if Congress could ever do this politically well, which means it can't address it well policy-wise, so I don't really see any value in them even trying to tackle it policy-wise. The better approach would be to work with the Administration behind the scenes if you have concerns- which I'm not sure Republicans should have, since I think the administration is doing a decent job on this. They aren't being too politically correct like some Democrats are- the administration has a good incentive to be serious about this because they'll the ones who get blamed if something goes wrong.

So I wonder what King was thinking (and the Republican leadership- since while they didn't like it, they didn't outright squash the idea). Clearly he doesn't think he could turn this into political advantage against Obama? People on the right will agree with King, while people on the left will agree with Democrats. American "independents/moderates/general public" don't react well to hate-mongering and ethnic focusing, so that cuts against King. The only way this could turn out politically well is if they have the hearings, and then something really bad happens related to the issue so it looks like Obama wasn't doing anything. That could happen, but I really hope not, and doubt, that King would be so cold-blooded to try to set-up that kind of political advantage, because you're really implicitly hoping that Americans get killed by a fellow American. obviously I think that's ridiculous- there are very few people who I could imagine (right or left) being so callous about an issue like this.

So if it's not for political purposes, then it has to be due to policy conviction. Which is fine, I think even completely open-minded people would agree that it's certainly an issue that needs to be looked into. Once again though, I think someone truly concerned with tackling the issue would have realized a more effective strategy would be to work behind the scenes and make the sure the administration is being pro-active- now all King has done is incited people in government to possibly be too politically correct. Basically, King is being stupid and actually his true policy objectives. At least that's what I think...

PBM said...

Aight, Megan you got me.

Megan said...

Yeah, I think it is safe to say that everything can be taken to the extreme. People are crazy.

Ian Thresher said...

Megan you are correct that Al-Awlaki has strong al-Qaeda ties and is considered a high level operative within the organization. As a result, I need to clarify my initial reasons for saying there was no link between Hassan and al-Qaeda. My point is more that Hassan never received any kind of equipment or funding from al-Qaeda. Instead, he received encouragement and exposure to al-Qaeda’s brand of radical Islam. As such, he is not an operative in the same way as the 9/11 hijackers, and I while he was in touch Al-Awlaki, their correspondence was just that: correspondence. Hassan could have received the same kind of consolation and encouragement on numerous websites. I think that Hassan’s links to al-Qaeda are, therefore, tenuous at best. Did Al-Awlaki encourage him to commit the Fort Hood shootings? Undoubtedly. But do you really think that 18 e-mail messages can convince an otherwise stable American soldier to murder other soldiers? Hassan was bent on the Fort Hood shootings; the victim more of his conscience than al-Qaeda meddling. You also mention the Little Rock shootings. Again, this was a lone man who shot and killed an American soldier. He had no connections to al-Qaeda or to any other militant Islamic organization. The man, like Hassan, has his own problems and his own agenda. I guess I have such a hard time buying this argument because so many people take the killers stated reasons at face value. For example, imagine there is a sociopath who is going to kill people no matter what. If, when he does kill people, he says he is killing in the name of Islam he immediately becomes a Muslim Extremist terrorist, even though his personal religious convictions had very little to do with his actual motive. The reasons people say they do things and the reasons why they actually do things are rarely the same.
You then make a straw man argument about the Tucson shooter. I never suggested that the media was right in pointing fingers at partisan rhetoric for the Arizona shooting. Nor do I understand why the media’s reaction should have any place in a debate about the merits of the Hearing on Muslim Americans.
I am quite baffled as to why you think the statistics are on your side when it comes to Al-Qaeda linked terrorist attacks. Only a quarter of the 46 PLOTS (which means two or more people talking about potentially committing an attack) could somehow be traced back to an Al-Qaeda representative. This means that 12 plots could somehow be tied to Al-Qaeda. 12 plots in 8 years is slightly more than one plot per year. I fail to understand why this represents such an enormous risk to the American people. I realize that only one of the attacks needs to escape our safety net, but making our safety net too narrow, which is exactly what this Meeting is doing, will only make us less safe. 15,000 people were murdered in 2009 and I think the Commission would be far better off analyzing those statistics than engaging in a xenophobic power trip.
I think Al-Qaeda should be addressed by the government, but not to the exclusion of everything else. This meeting does have a very narrow focus and the reason that is bad, Megan, is because you are looking at a very very small fraction of the radicals and murderers that operate within this country. I do think the U.S. should actively try and prevent Americans from carrying out Al-Qaeda’s agenda, but that needs to be one fraction of an overall effort to curb violence in America. It does not make sense to me to devote an entire Hearing to a group that plots something once a year when the U.S. has higher Murder, Rape, and Poverty rates than almost any other post-industrialized country (sandwiched between Bulgaria and Armenia). The only purpose of this meeting, as I see it, is to increase fear of a relatively marginal threat in order to gain votes.

Megan said...

Ian, the reason Al-Qaeda is not a huge threat to us today is because we DO narrowly focus on it and its influence.

Ian Thresher said...

You are right. We do and we should. But we should not overlook all of the other far more pressing threats, which is exactly what we are doing by holding a Hearing (whose goal is to combat terrorism and protect the lives of Americans) devoted solely to al-Qaeda.

Megan said...

I think we disagree about the threat that Al-Qaeda and like-minded people pose to the United States.

Also, no one is going to hold a hearing to address ALL the murders, crime, and rapes that are going on. We need to focus if we want to get anything done. It's not like this is the only Congressional Hearing that this committee is holding all year.

I watched a hearing about a possible change in IRS disclosure law that could help track parental abductions. Would you argue that because parental abductions only account for a fraction of the abductions in the U.S. that Congress should not have focused on it and held an entire hearing on it?

Megan said...

Also, many of those 46 plots very nearly killed quite a few people.

Megan said...

Just a couple more things on the Fort Hood shooter. If a man was known to be in contact with the KKK and killed a black man while yelling racist things, no one would have trouble calling it a racist killing (rightfully so). If a neo-nazi killed a jewish person no one would have trouble calling it a racist killing (rightfully so).

But when a Muslim extremist shoots 50 American soldiers, everyone blames the stresses of dealing with soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (which is NOT contagious) as the reason that he shot these very same soldiers whose stresses troubled him so. It makes no sense. You think we should not take into account what the evidence points to as the obvious reason for the killing because there may be deep-rooted psychological problems. This may be true in all three cases that I have named, but the underlying theme behind the attacks is hatred (which may be a type of psychological illness in and of itself). This hatred stems from religious and ideological beliefs. The portrayal of Hassan as a victim of the army, racism, and war is disrespectful to those who died, their families, and Muslim Americans. By not labeling this as a Muslim extremist attack out of respect for Muslim Americans, we are making the assumption that Muslim Americans will be offended by the prosecution of a Muslim extremist, and therefore making the assumption that Muslim Americans are sympathetic to extremists. Muslim Americans have more of a reason than any of us to be outraged by extremist attacks. These people have tainted their religion in many people's eyes, and have caused many instances of discrimination and alienation. Turning a blind eye to Muslim extremism in trying to be politically correct is the most disrespectful thing we can do to Muslim Americans.

This is not really a response to anything you said. Really just venting!

Ian Thresher said...

Yes, I agree that we disagree about the threat that al-Qaeda poses. You make a very good point about the nature of hearings. I guess my feelings are that so long as this is only one of a large number of hearings devoted to the subject of terrorism, it makes sense to hold a hearing looking into the risks posed by al-Qaeda. Even so, I am not convinced of the motives behind this Hearing, something I think several others, including yourself, have remarked on. Additionally, I do not think it is within Congress’ power to do much about the issue. That power lies in the executive branch. That is, among other things, my problem with this hearing.
As for your arguments about the merits of al-Qaeda’s threat and influence, we are not really going to get very far. Yes, each of the 46 plots COULD have resulted in a large number of deaths and our current fixation on such groups no doubt helped to ensure those plots never got far enough. But keep in mind that most of those plots were not foiled by super genius intelligence agencies or the PATRIOT act. They were foiled by informers, most of whom were Muslim. The only real and lasting way to keep those kinds of tips coming in and to prevent more domestic terrorism plots is to open our arms to the Muslim community. When Americans shun them or grow outraged because there is a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero, it only embitters Muslims (as it would any group), which in turn leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy as angry Muslims increasingly turn towards violent anti-American teachings. If you actually want to accomplish the kind of security you want (that all Americans want) you cannot treat all Muslims as enemies and I think that is what too many politicians do.
You are of course correct in saying that hatred is the chief motivator in all of those acts of violence. I would be more inclined to say that psychological problems played a greater role, but even so I cannot argue that it was their all-consuming hatred that led each of those people (in your hypothetical examples) to murder. What I think you overlook, however, is from where that hatred comes from. You say it comes from ideological and religious convictions. That plays a part no doubt, but you have to keep in mind that many of these people are rejected by American society and thus they rebel against it. I am not making excuses for their behavior; my point is that hatred comes from a variety of outside environmental factors. Ideology simply serves as the outlet.