King Hearings: Did We Learn Anything?

Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) attends a news conference promoting the' 9/11 Health and Compensation Act' on September 8, 2010 in New York City. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) (Spencer Platt/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowFaiza Patel came on to discuss her new report, "Rethinking Radicalization", on how law enforcement officials try to deter "homegrown" terrorism in the United States. Joining her was Arun Venugopal, who talked about what happened at yesterday's hearings in Washington, D.C., on radicalization within the Muslim American community.

Now that Rep. Peter King's hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response" has finally come and gone, it's time to figure out if the big headache was worth it. After enduring all the public controversy surrounding the event, did we at least learn something?

Arun Venugopal and Faiza Patel aren't so sure. Both said the hearing was light on anything resembling "evidence." To make King's case—which, in a way, includes arguing that such a hearing is necessary in the first place—the chairman invited two American Muslims, Abdirizak Bihi and Melvin Bledsoe, who had seen members of their family seduced by radical Islam and turned to terrorism. Venugopal said that these witnesses were brought in to shine a flashlight on the community organizations that have drawn Rep. King's suspicion.

For both of them, the response was that the leadership of the Muslim American community pressured them not to come out with these revelations. When they turned to mosque leadership and the Counsel on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), they really tried to get  them to stifle the story, saying it would discredit the community, hurt the larger American Muslim community, and the FBI didn't have their interests at heart.

"The central focus was on how the American Muslim leadership has been running contrary to the efforts of law enforcement officials," Venugopal explained. "That's what Chairman King was really trying to get at here."

If Bledsoe and Bihi's testimony is to be believed, it paints a troubling picture of certain American Muslim organizations, and behooves elected officials to investigate them. That's what a hearing like this should be: presenting accusations and then allowing the accused to answer for them publicly. The purpose should finding out if what Bledsoe and Bihi said was true, if the Muslim community is indeed being obstructionist. That could be a valuable discussion.

But this hearing wasn't. None of the organizations whose good faith was in question were invited to speak. Venugopal said that was a problem.

There were obvious omissions from the witness stand. Namely, the Muslim community groups that were not called to sort of speak to the accusations against them, like CAIR. What people were saying was inappropriate or wrong about the hearing was not simply its premise, but what they saw as King's cherry-picking of witnesses. Although he had a couple of compelling ones who've seen radicalization up front, it wasn't King who called Sheriff Baca from the LAPD to speak about cooperation, it was the Democrats, the minority members of the committee. None of the major Muslim groups could speak to the accusations or give us a better sense of why they're not cooperating if they're not; or if they are, how are they doing it? That was sort of the elephant in the room.

The guest list for the hearing was already short to begin with. Faiza Patel found fault with a thin, niche list of witnesses, which didn't do justice to the stated purpose of the hearing, or the issue of Muslim radicalization at large.

The very fact that chairman King had only two anecdotes at the hearing demonstrates that he wasn't really talking about the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community. If you want to talk about this issue, which is a global issue in the sense that you want an overview of what the actual extent of radicalization is and whether we should be worried, look at how many cases we've had over last decade. The statistics on that are that we've had cases of homegrown terrorism, but the number is low, so that's not very beneficial to stirring up fear about issue. That's why two anecdotes were chosen.

"I don't think these hearings told us anything about the extent of the problem," Patel said.

The big question for detractors of King's hearing was whether it came off as unnecessarily confrontational. Might its accusatory tone—charging that American Muslims resist societal integration and cooperation—disenfranchise the targeted community even more, without any answers to show for the trouble? Patel felt that was the case. 

I just wonder whether King, who started these hearings with the premise that there were too many mosques in the United States and 80 percent of them were extremist, and then set up a hearing, which was very much one-sided, to demonstrate that point of view without having major Muslim groups over there, just seems to me wrong way to go about it.


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Comments [22]

J.W. from connecticut

@Sharon from LES

I can identify Isreal on a map. I'm in favor of pro US-Israeli relationships, in so much as it goes to securing Israel's safety, stability, and sovereignty in the region - conversely I think Israel does NOT have a blank check from the US that it can do with as it wants. I'm American (and not jewish). I know how much aid the US gives Israel. for those who don't, go here:

I don't think your post is pertinent to this discussion, we should be talking about radicalization primarily *within* the US for the scope of this converstaion.

I'd also advise everyone calm down and think a little before they reply to this thread. Its clearly a highly inflammatory subject matter


Mar. 11 2011 11:41 AM
Sharon from LES

The "mainstream" view that the US supports all Israeli policy is a misnomer. Most Americans could not find Israel on a map. If Americans new how much foreign aid and what Israel does with it would question it. This is not a Muslim thing and they should not be correlated. It also should be said the bulk of immigrates would state the same about our support of Israel as they have been out in the world.

Mar. 11 2011 11:25 AM

Let's have hearings on why humanity still tolerates rigid belief in superstitious fantasies such as religious texts as the word of god, prophets, and messiahs.

Mar. 11 2011 11:23 AM
J.W. from ct

It does feel like these hearings were more for show than substance. It seemed to me that Brian's line of questions were his attempt to ask, "okay, sure, the hearings are what they are - but forget about them, is there really an issue here after all?" And his guests dodged and sidestepped their way away from that with gusto.

I'd like to ask, how do you measure the extent of radicalization in muslim communities, or in any community, for that matter? It seems clear that you can't go be terrorist attacks (as one of the guests tried to do), since these are the "final step" in the process, but that you need to identify the "beginning steps" instead, and go by that. I don't know what those are or how to measure them - but I think people who do have that information should make it part of this public conversation!


Mar. 11 2011 11:22 AM
Edward from NJ

@David from Greenpoint, perhaps Nasser recognized it as a piece of theater that would offer little that he didn't already know. Regardless of your feelings about any particular Congressional hearing, a single day of hearings is rarely educational for someone already familiar with the issues.

Mar. 11 2011 11:16 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ David from Greenpoint

He probably wasn't listening because he knows what everyone with at least a room temp IQ knows, namely that these hearings are a dog and pony show designed to delight and amuse the ignorant bigots and racists who've been feeling left out lately, what with the news SO full of protesting muslims deposing dictators and demanding democracy.

Mar. 11 2011 11:11 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ David from Greenpoint

He probably wasn't listening because he knows what everyone with at least a room temp IQ knows, namely that these hearings are a dog and pony show designed to delight and amuse the ignorant bigots and racists who've been feeling left out lately, what with the news SO full of protesting muslims deposing dictators and demanding democracy.

Mar. 11 2011 11:09 AM
Mike from Manhattan

Why is it worse to temporarily loose a good young teacher to a layoff than it is to permanently loose a good experienced teacher because she is at the high end of the pay scale? That is the real choice. Anyone from the real world of work has probably been laid off due to economic down turns. This is always temporarily for young workers. Older workers typically never are rehired unless they are protected by a seniority system.

Mar. 11 2011 10:59 AM
David from Greenpoint

It is quite ironic that detective and Muslim community affairs representative for the NYPD, Ahmed Nasser, did not even listen to the extensively publicized Muslim radicalization hearings. One would think that this particular detective would be seriously interested in hearing various reports from all perspectives about a community he is supposedly representing. Our society is rapidly creating civil servants whose ambitions tend towards the lowest common denominator.

Mar. 11 2011 10:59 AM
John Bull

Peter King - NORAID fundraiser & IRA terrorist supporter.

Mar. 11 2011 10:48 AM
hana from NY

There should be hearings. However there should be hearings that invite a broader range of people to speak and therefore not to be one-sided. Such hearings do not help air the issues.

Mar. 11 2011 10:40 AM
David from Brooklyn

Fortunately, we Americans have Congressman whose name is Pete King!

Mar. 11 2011 10:38 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ from NYC

Dude, calm down, it's America, not Saudi Arabia. In Uganda (a DEEPLY christian nation) they execute homosexuals for being gay and they sure would like to in places like Jamaica. Should we start investigating Ugandans and Jamaicans living in the USA for hate crimes that take place outside our borders? American Muslims are just that, Americans - if you don't like it that makes you a bigot, not a security/culture expert.

Mar. 11 2011 10:38 AM

I applaud COngressman King for holding this hearing, which I found most interesting and informative. King had as much right to hold such a hearing, as those that were held in the past to evaluate Communist influence, Cosa Nostra influence, and so on. It is true that I do not recall any past hearings on KKK or German Bund or Fascist influence, probably because those affected too large a percentage of the population at the time to want to tangle with politically. It is much easier to tackle the pathologies within smaller minority groups than those affecting the larger groups. But I think this hearing was valuable and worthwhile, and constructive as well.

Mar. 11 2011 10:38 AM from NYC

This show gets worse and worse. This issue is not only the possibility of terrorism, but a DEEP CULTURAL CHANGE -- TREATMENT OF WOMEN, FREEDOM OF RELIGION. What happens to a Muslim who leaves the religion ????????

Mar. 11 2011 10:34 AM
Steve Mark

1) There will be other hearings and hopefully CAIR will have the courage to come forth
2) Cong.Ellison's emoktional speech., while upsetting and moving, was not abouht a family member, which doesn't minimize his words but
3)Most moving were Witneses Bledsoe and Bihi whose experiences have been chilling.

Mar. 11 2011 10:33 AM
Mr. Bad from N YC

@ JB from office

Oh yes because the FBI is so fair and even handed. This terrorist suspect:

is so "deep" undercover that he doesn't mind filing a lawsuit against the FBI for violating his civil rights and drawing national media attention to himself. Clearly an "extremist".

These "hearings" are a true embarrassment to all Americans, there is little else to do but hand our heads in shame.

Mar. 11 2011 10:30 AM
jb from Office

John, that is how they reduce the issue to a republican smear campaign. Instead of addressing the issue that there are Americans willing to go and fight Jihad against their nation.

Mar. 11 2011 10:28 AM
elizabeth from manhattan

i would guess that the hearings would not consider the terrible treatment of muslims by law enforcement after 9/11 - the roundups, the mistreatment, etc that fostered the mistrust of the fbi and law enforcement that the one gentleman referred to. nor would it focus on the actual grievances that upset the muslim community - the favoritism toward israel that condones, supports and increases terrible conditions for palestinians, for example.

Mar. 11 2011 10:25 AM
John Lobell from NYC

This show is very disturbing in that it is nitpicking the hearings rather than addressing the issue.

Mar. 11 2011 10:25 AM
JB from office

Everyone never says the truth about the McCarthy hearings, it turned out that there were communist agents in the US. Proven after the fall of the Soviet Union.

What are people afraid of here, this issue needs to be aired out.

What is it in Islam that leads to acts like suicide bombing, the marginization of women etc.

Mar. 11 2011 10:24 AM
gary from queens

I saw that the democrats came ready for the hearing-----to be disingenuous.

First, the supposed data showing more non-muslim acts of terrorism than muslim acts of terrorism. This can't pass the laugh test, but it went unrebutted. But trust me, it will later be shown to be fraudulent. Perhaps the democrats included routine hate crimes as acts of terrorism. I don't know.

But I recall over a year ago, when Eric Holder was trying to show the effectiveness of Article 3 prosecutions of terrorists, they had the nerve to include routine court hearings and fines for money laundering or contributions to terrorist front groups posing as charities. All that, plus a handfull of bomb plots, falsely inflated the data.

Second, I thought Rep. Sanchez asked the witness an underhanded question: "If you are a minority, and the FBI knocked on your door at 8 pm, would you get a lawyer before you answered any of their questions?"

Wow, talk about a loaded question! In point of fact, EVERYONE should have a lawyer before being interviewed by the FBI. All an agent needs to do is CONSTRUE that you purposely lied, and you go to jail. But that is not at issue. Everyone should go to the FBI if they learn of a terrorist plot or suspicious activity. Cooperation means saving lives. If you wish to bring a lawyer, or your pet dog, be my guest.

(Although we learned from the hearings that many devout Muslims, following Koranic teaching, do not keep dogs as pets. They're considered too dirty to keep in the home.)

Mar. 11 2011 10:06 AM

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