Target criminals, not communities

In what may be the first ever hearing in which Congress probes a minority faith in America, King has turned the microscope of law enforcement’s methodical search for clues to violent, criminal behavior upside down. His hearing will present Americans with a distorted view of American Muslims.  It will also offer no real, empirical evidence that American Muslim communities are somehow responsible for the actions of deranged individuals who act out their violent nightmares. Their murderous acts grossly contradict what is actually taught in mosques and other Muslim community institutions in America, according to a study released last year by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Only a few weeks ago, in King’s first committee hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) expressed his concerns that his conservative views also made him a target of public and, perhaps even, federal suspicion: “I consider myself a Tea Party congressman, and.… during the course of getting to this office, [I was] questioned a lot about certain things the United States was doing with regard to patriotic Americans who may label themselves as Tea Party folks, who peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, all the First Amendment rights that we have… Does your department consider military veterans or groups dedicated to single issues, patriotic Americans, a threat to homeland security and higher risk to engage in extremist activity?”

Surely, the American Muslim community is entitled to the same rights and liberties as the Tea Party.

King’s hearing needs to focus on actual threats and hold individuals accountable, but they won’t do that. Given that the Southern Poverty Law Center reported recently that this year’s list of hate groups in America has reached an “all-time high,” and since groups with the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, militia, Christian Identity and other ideologies cited have all attempted or succeeded in violent attacks on Americans, it makes sense to expand the focus of this hearing on all sources of violent extremism in our nation.

According to news reports, in a majority of cases, violent extremists who either self-identify as “Muslim” or who were given that title in media reports, were neither inspired by, nor connected in any meaningful way to, the mosques and community institutions that provide a spiritual and social foundation for millions of Muslim citizens. 

Consider Colleen LaRose, aka “Jihad Jane,” whose own family did not even know that she was “Muslim,” or that she had become inculcated into violent extremist beliefs via the Internet. Then there is the young Saudi, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who came to the U.S. on a student visa and lived in Tennessee and Texas while violent and sociopathic ideas grew in his mind. No one in mosques in either Nashville or Lubbock had ever seen him before his face appeared in national news reports, and federal authorities confirm that he was acting alone. 

Finally, there is Taher Aziz, a student who ran his car over a number of students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Using words that are eerily similar to those classmates used to describe Jared Loughner  – Taher’s fellow students said that they “thought he was crazy from the beginning… People would avoid him, but at the same time, he avoided others.” Police and the FBI interviewed people who knew him for years, and none were aware of his violent intentions.

The Loughner attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) is a painful reminder that violent extremism is not particular to any ethnic, racial or faith group. And as National Security Director Michael Leiter’s comments to Congress underscored last month, if we should only be focused on a “tiny percentage” of the American Muslim community that may become violent extremists, why is King targeting an entire faith community with this hearing? 

Congress and the Homeland Security Committee should do its job and investigate actual evidence of violent extremist behavior, so that we can better guard against real threats to Americans. To do otherwise is an affront to our national dignity and the individual and religious freedoms we as Americans hold dear.

Farhana Khera, a former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is the executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization based in San Francisco. 

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