ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf and Huma Khan report: Today’s House hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response” has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.
Democrats and rights groups say he’s guilty of “modern-day McCarthyism,” and is using religion to divide Americans.
Critics had sought to have the scope of the hearings expanded beyond Islam to consider radical sects of other religious and belief groups too.
Watch George Stephanopoulos' interview with King HERE.
Despite the outcry, it should be noted that King’s hearing is not the first or the fifth or even the tenth hearing in Congress to tackle the issue of violent Islamic extremism.
Independent Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is himself a defense hawk, chaired a series of 14 hearings on "Violent Islamic Extremism" from his perch as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. So Did Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., who held six similar hearings.
Lieberman’s hearings spanned from Sept. 2006 to Feb. 2011.
Sen. Lieberman, I-Ct., says his hearings were different in that they examined the ideology of Islamic terrorism rather than spotlighting the Muslim community, but he called King’s hearings “important.”
“The problem has gotten worse, and thus there is more awareness of it. Chairman King’s focus also appears to be on the responsibility of the Muslim American community for dealing with the threat of homegrown radicalization, whereas our focus was on the ideology that spawns Islamist terrorism,” Lieberman said in a statement.
“But the questions Chairman King is raising are important ones. Our government needs a more comprehensive approach to combating and preventing homegrown radicalization. I have been saying that for years,” he added. “Law enforcement, intelligence, and local police departments do an increasingly good job. But it’s clear that if we’re really going to prevent the radicalization of Muslim Americans, people within Muslim American communities must be alert to signs that somebody is beginning to turn in a radical direction and then work with others in the community and law enforcement to stop that person from carrying out an attack.”
“My own hope is that these House hearings will lead to a better understanding of three things: One is the extremely small percentage of Muslim Americans who represent any threat to this country; the rest are patriotic and law-abiding. Two, we need the Muslim American community to help us reduce this threat. And three, the administration must issue a comprehensive strategy that engages the public and private sectors to confront and prevent the radicalization to Islamist extremism of people within the U.S.”
What’s different this time, civil rights groups say, is King’s rhetoric. They also point to the title and witness list of the hearings, saying they more specifically target the American Muslim community rather than the threat of extremism itself.
“The committee should rely on facts and scientifically rigorous analysis, not biased opinions or unsupported theories positing a discernable ‘radicalization’ process that are belied by available evidence,” stated a letter sent to King by 40 organizations opposing the hearing. “A fact-based approach enhanced with scientifically rigorous analysis will likely be more successful at providing a clear picture of the threats we face and the appropriate methods we need to employ to address them without violating the constitutional rights of innocent persons. Fear and misunderstanding should not drive our government policies.”
A coalition of religious leaders opposing the hearing said today the rationale for the hearings is also false.
"The rationale for these hearings rests on an assertion that the American Muslim community has failed to support American law enforcement in its efforts against terrorism. This assertion is false," a group of religious leaders said in a statement. "A study by Duke University indicated that 'the largest single source of initial information' in helping prevent terrorist attacks were members of the Muslim community. In fact, the American Muslim community is deeply engaged in preventing terrorism."