Saylor: Rep. Peter King can do some real damage with congressional Muslim hearings
As published in The Statesman
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Rep. Peter King's fumblings around his planned hearings on Muslim "radicalization" may one day raise amused eyebrows. However, since he is positioned to do some real damage, his inept handling of the hearings raises nothing but alarm.
As chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, King announced his hearings by reciting his allegation that "over 80 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams." In January, he said he will "stand-by" that number.
When asked, King points to no authoritative source for his 80 percent allegation.
Instead he cites a speech given at the U.S. Department of State in the late 1990s by Hisham Kabbani, a figure who is unknown to most U.S. Muslims.
One man's opinion. Kabbani to this day does not respond to inquiries about his source for this allegation.
A person in King's position should seek higher quality evidence than one person's unsubstantiated allegation. Such lax "one person's opinion" standards led to bad things during the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings.
(King, by the way, also believes "there are too many mosques in America.")
Next, Politico reported that according to King, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a potential witness at the hearing.
During the course of a single 2007 interview with Reason Magazine Ali said, "I think that we are at war with Islam" and called for Islam to be "defeated." Later in the interview, Ali suggested that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to allow for discrimination against Muslims.
Once such facts became public, Ali was dropped.
Most recently, a National Review article -- posted on the House Homeland Security Committee's website so presumably King felt it was accurate -- announced that Walid Phares was a planned witness for the hearings.
Phares is a former official with a Christian militia implicated, by Israel's official Kahan inquiry and other sources, in the 1982 massacre of civilian men, women and children at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon.
In the late 1990s, leading members of Phares' World Lebanese Organization included the deputy commander of a group known for systematically torturing prisoners. Another leading member headed a militia known for atrocities during the Lebanese civil war.
Once such facts became public, Phares was dropped as well. Even after learning of Phares' past associations, King issued a statement saying he will rely on Phares "for his advice and counsel as these hearings go forward."
King could have saved himself, his committee and his party a lot of embarrassment by doing a basic internet search on either of these extreme individuals. Even more embarrassment could have been saved by checking the factual basis of any allegations before casually tossing them out in public.
The threat of violent extremism, from whatever source, to our nation is a profoundly serious issue.
However, King's baseless allegations and extremist witnesses raise reasonable questions about the credibility of the hearings as a force to oppose the threat.
It is time for House Speaker Boehner and other Republicans to rein King in. King's fumbling is not only embarrassing, but distracts from a serious issue.
Corey Saylor is national legislative director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Contact him at email@example.com.