Muslim rights groups accused New York Republican Rep. Peter King of 'McCarthyism' for planning Capitol Hill hearings on the growing threat of Islamic radicalization.
King held his ground Tuesday and rebuffed a request by Muslim groups that the hearings explore radical extremism among other religions and belief groups in addition to Islam.
In a letter to the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., King insisted that "the Committee will continue to examine the threat of Islamic radicalization, and I will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States."
On Wednesday, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and Michael Leiter, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center are set to testify at a hearing before the committee titled "Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape - Considerations for the 112th Congress."
Last week, a collection of more than 50 Muslim, Christian and interfaith groups, and human and civil rights organizations wrote a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi condemning the idea of the hearings, which they said are reminiscent of "McCarthyism," and encouraged the committee to embrace an examination of "violence motivated by extremist beliefs, in all its forms, in a full, fair and objective way."
Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said that by singling out one community for investigation, the committee is abusing its congressional authority and it could fuel anti-Muslim hate.
"The primary concern is that these hearings will feed an atmosphere of misinformation and mistrust, casting a wide net of suspicion on American Muslims and questioning their loyalty as Americans," Khera said. "As we saw last summer after hate groups stoked anti-Muslim fear around mosques in New York and Tennessee, and the threatened mass-burning of Qurans in Florida, we fear that misinformation will stoke anti-Muslim hate and in turn hate violence and discrimination targeting American Muslims."
Khera said the 50's era McCarthy hearings serve as "an important reminder that Congress has a solemn duty to wield its power responsibly."
"Our concern essentially is the way Representative King talked about singling out one community, we find that highly problematic. It basically looks like his hearings will inevitably investigate First Amendment-protected expression and activities of a particular religious community, if the hearings are framed that way. It's wrong, divisive, and not a proper exercise of congressional authority," Khera said.
In January Thompson joined the chorus of Muslim organizations in calling for an expansion of the hearing's focus. He asked King to broaden the hearing agenda to a "broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups, regardless of their respective ideological underpinnings." Today, Thompson had no comment on King's intent to move forward with the hearings without changing their focus.