How Does al-Qaeda Recruit American Terrorists?

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In his initial move as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Republican representative Peter King announced last month that he would hold a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims--an attempt to discover what draws so-called "homegrown" terrorists to terrorism. The representative from New York had an active hand in supporting Muslims in the Balkans who were being persecuted by Serbian Christians in the 1990s and notes his insistence after 9/11 that "we could not do to Muslims what was done to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor." But King's attitude changed when a number of recently thwarted attacks on the US were attempted by American Muslims recruited by al-Qaeda.

"There's a disconnect between outstanding Muslims who contribute so much to the future of our country and those leaders who--for whatever reason--acquiesce in terror or ignore the threat," writes King. "It is this disconnect that threatens the security of us all." With his hearings, King aims to "break down the wall of political correctness and drive the public debate on Islamic radicalization ... It's what democracy is all about."

King's announcement sparked strong initial reactions from members of the left and right. As more plans for the hearings are revealed, King's efforts are receiving some unlikely opposition from previous right-wing supporters. Here is some of the backlash King's proposal has received over the past month.

  • An Unfair and Unexpected Generalization  In the first paragraph of a New Year's Day editorial, The New York Times wastes no time calling King's crusade against Muslim radicalization "disturbing," "sweeping" and "unacceptable." The editors are puzzled by King's position, considering his support of Clinton's intervention to protect Muslims in the Balkans, and suggest the representative remember how he successfully settled other international disputes. "Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security is a very serious job," they write. "Mr. King needs to get serious."
  • A Win-Win Situation  At Real Clear Politics, former New York City mayor Ed Koch shoots back at the New York Times' chiding of King, expressing support for the effort to target, specifically, domestic Muslim terrorists. He writes:
Remember, we are at war with Islamic terrorists who, according to the U.S. government, have Al-Qaeda cells at work in 62 countries. Islamic terrorists have made it clear that they want to kill Americans - men, women, and children. If the hearings establish that the American Muslim community, like the Japanese American community during World War II, is devoted and loyal to the U.S., wouldn't that be of enormous assistance in protecting members of the American Muslim community from the charges that have been made against them?
  • Worried About Stigmatization  Politico's Ben Smith and Byron Tau report that members of the American Muslim community and their advocacy groups "fear King's witness list will help define, for the purposes of the American public conversation, which Muslim leaders are legitimate and which should be regarded as extremists."
  • Don't Shut Out Your Right-Wing Supporters  In order focus on testimonies from Muslims, King declined to call Steve Emerson, an outspoken conservative critic of American Muslim leaders, to speak at the hearing. Emerson, Politico's Ben Smith reports, wrote an angry letter to King comparing his exclusion from the hearings to McCarthyism, saying:
During the days of Senator McCarthy, innocent writers were blacklisted and had to write under pseudonyms because of fear from the accusations of the dictatorial Senator. That you have caved in to the demands of radical Islamists in removing me as a witness, in light of the fact that no one in this country has done more empirical investigations about the attitudes and statements of the established Muslim leadership, shows me, to my utter horror, that McCarthyism is still alive today...
  • Hearings Will Humiliate a Religious Group  Writing at The Huffington Post today, co-founder of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and Religious Freedom USA Joshua Stanton echoes some of Steve Emerson's McCarthyism rhetoric. Stanton expresses a feeling of empathy towards American Muslims, comparing their plight to that of American Jews who, he says, were disproportionately blacklisted during the Red Scares of the Cold War. He notes: "but seldom has our religion actually been put on the stand. No organ of the federal government has, to my knowledge, held hearings to investigate American Jewry for disloyalty or radicalization. We may have feared such public humiliation--but it has not yet materialized." American Muslims, however, will experience this when put on the stand for their religious beliefs by King and the Homeland Security Committee. "The hearings must be stopped even before they are started," urges Stanton. "Otherwise, they may well lead to the humiliation and marginalization of an American religious community."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.