But King’s approach is wrong on three fundamental levels. First, Muslim Americans have already played a pivotal role in combating terrorism. Second, law enforcement professionals regard King’s approach as counter-productive. And third, dividing Americans on the basis of their faith abandons one of our greatest strengths, while weakening our national security. The outcome of King’s hearings will be to unjustly cast suspicion upon every member of the Muslim faith.
Muslims, like members of any other community in America, often work with law enforcement to help prevent crime. Times Square was spared when a Senegalese Muslim street vendor spotted and reported the suspicious car idling, the DC Metro plot was prevented with information from a vigilant Muslim community member, and the investigation for the Portland case was jump-started by the suspect’s father. Muslim anti-terror assistance goes well beyond these three plots; the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) “Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database” found that three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots in the past 15 months were thwarted due to the assistance of Muslims.
As Attorney General Eric Holder has noted, the “cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats.”
In some instances, Muslims have been the first to warn of emerging threats – “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab and Mumbai plotter David Headley – while law enforcement agencies have failed to use that vital information to prevent the attacks from occurring.
King has also asserted, “people who are in mainstream Islam, leaders of mosques, leaders of Muslim organizations do not come forward and denounce” terrorism.
This is one of the most dangerous lies perpetuated about Muslim Americans. Muslim social and religious leaders have been at the forefront of challenging extremist justifications for violence. A recent Congressional Research service report, entitled “American Jihadist Terrorism,” highlighted the important counter-extremism work of Muslim American groups. This is nothing to say of the hundreds of Muslim religious leaders around the world who consistently and vocally stand against violence, and who consistently fail to garner any significant mainstream media attention.
In fact, repeated fatwas (religious declarations) against extremism have become so damaging to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates that in one edition of Inspire, their online magazine, Anwar Al-Awlaki felt compelled to write a defensive seven-page article responding the debunking of Al-Qaeda’s purported justifications for violence.
Thankfully, many on Capitol Hill are refusing to engage in this opportunistic religion-baiting. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, recently noted, “Devoting all of our assets to investigate only the Muslim community… will weaken counterterrorism cooperation by ignoring the long history of Muslim cooperation…poisoning this relationship.”
Americans are in a common fight against violent extremism and Muslim Americans, like any other Americans, are committed to the safety of their families, their communities and their country. Going forward, it will be necessary to continue to enhance partnerships with Muslim Americans to prevent deadly attacks and defeat violent extremism.
During last month’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama boldly stated, “American Muslim are a part of our American family.” Those words – met by Congress with a standing ovation – were not an idealistic catchphrase. It’s time for all our elected officials to recognize that.
Alejandro J. Beutel is Muslim Public Affairs Council's Government & Policy Analyst.