The controversial hearings on homegrown terrorism within American Muslim communities are more than shameful bigotry; they're counterproductive. They don't address root causes of radical Islam and alienate rather than engage key allies in the fight against extremism: American Muslims.
New Haven, Conn.
Representative Peter King (R) of New York is holding congressional hearings on the “threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism” today. Mr. King has lodged a number of accusations against American Muslims, alleging that they have been uncooperative with law enforcement officials in preventing terrorism plots here in the United States. His accusations, however, are built on distortions of the facts that have been refuted by top law enforcement officials. The problem with the King hearings is not simply that they amount to shameful bigotry; these hearings are counterproductive. They fail to address the root causes of homegrown terrorism and alienate rather than engage one of the greatest assets in the fight against Islamic extremism – American Muslims.
As Attorney General Eric Holder stated recently, “The cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats.” According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Muslim American cooperation led to thwarted terrorist plots in 48 of 120 cases involving Muslim Americans. Last year, the RAND corporation reported that the low rate of would-be violent extremists indicates that American Muslims are opposed to “jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence” and therefore, "a mistrust of American Muslims by other Americans seems misplaced.”
Since 9/11, millions of research dollars have been spent on understanding American Muslims: how many there are, how religious they are, and how satisfied or “happy” they are living in the US. A 2007 Pew study, reassuringly titled “Muslim Americans: Mostly Middle Class and Mainstream,” found them to be largely assimilated, politically moderate, and similar to other American religious groups in their values, degree of religious observance, and, yes, even happiness.
In a Duke University study, counterterrorism researchers found very low numbers of what they termed “radicalized” American Muslims and that American mosques were taking pragmatic steps to counter extremism. Some of these community-based initiatives include public and collective denunciations of terrorism, self-policing, developing community resources, and nurturing civic engagement.
In the face of this research, King still insists that 85 percent of American mosques have “extremist leadership” and that ordinary American Muslims are not opposed to terrorism. But a 2004 survey of mosque congregations in greater Detroit conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that the vast majority of mosque participants shun extremist views (92 percent) and are virtually unanimous (93 percent) in supporting community service and political involvement.
While studies show that most Muslim Americans shun extremism, King might ask: What about the remaining outliers who don’t? What are we doing about them? Even if they only make up a tiny percentage of American Muslim communities, the scale of their violent destruction could be incalculable.
American Muslims are painfully aware of the fact that the actions of a few can have global, deleterious consequences on our society in general, and on Muslim communities in particular. That’s why Muslim leaders are educating their youth, cooperating with law enforcement, and repeatedly, publicly condemning terrorism. King and others concerned about homegrown terrorism ought to support them. Instead, King’s hearings treat all Muslim Americans as dangerous outsiders, which undermines the counter-terrorism efforts within American mosques.