Planned House hearings raise concerns

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Planned House hearings on the ‘radicalization’ of the Islamic community in the U.S. have raised concerns among Muslim Americans and have drawn comparisons to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has scheduled a series of hearings on the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.” King has long complained that there has not been sufficient cooperation with law enforcement from within the Muslim American community to stop al-Qaida from recruiting members. Citing two Muslims, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the sole suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Hood, and Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty to plotting to blow up New York City subways, King said his hearings would “break down the wall of political correctness and drive the public debate on Islamic radicalization.”

The planned hearings have generated concern among members of several religious and civil rights groups who have publicly said that the hearings amount to nothing more than a witch hunt.

“We’re concerned that it’ll become a new McCarthy-type hearing,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. During the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R.-Wis., led a hunt for communists and their sympathizers in the 1950s, culminating in a series of hearings that were widely considered to be abusive and ultimately led to McCarthy’s censure by the U.S. Senate.

Some members of Congress have also expressed concern over the hearings. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, said that such an attention-getting forum would only further “vilify” Muslim Americans. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., the former chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said, “I feel like my friend Peter has gone way beyond what is called for there, and I do intend to talk to him about it.”

The first hearing on this issue, “Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape — Considerations for the 112th Congress,” is scheduled for Feb. 9.

King, meanwhile, also recently introduced legislation that has drawn criticism.

The bill, H.R. 495, titled “The See Something, Say Something Act of 2011,” would provide civil immunity in U.S. courts for individuals who, acting in good faith and based on objectively reasonable suspicion, report threats to appropriate law enforcement officials. In announcing the introduction of the bill, King said, “Good citizens who report suspicious activity … should not have to worry about being sued.”

King’s remarks appeared to be a reference to a lawsuit by six imams who were removed from a domestic U.S. flight after fellow passengers reported what they considered suspicious behavior, though the bill does not mention them. Critics have said the bill would turn neighbors into spies and citizens into agents for the government, reporting on any behavior regardless of the circumstances. King introduced similar legislation in 2009 (H.R. 2064), but that bill died in committee and never reached the House floor for a vote.