Feb. 8, 2011 -- 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.
King Vows Not to Bow to Political Correctness
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.
King said Tuesday in his letter to Thompson that expanding the investigation to include other groups would be "extraneous and diffuse the efficacy" of the hearing while sending a "false message" that the committee believes there is "any threat equivalency between these disparate groups and Islamists terrorism."
"The homeland has become a major front in the war with Islamic terrorism and it is our responsibility to fully examine this significant change in al Qaeda tactics and strategy," King wrote. "Al Qaeda has realized the difficulty it faces in launching attacks against our homeland from overseas. Thus it has adjusted its tactics and is now attempting to radicalize and recruit from within our country. In the last two years alone more than 50 Americans have been charged with terror related crimes."
Today, King said that the recent string of terrorist attacks and attempts in the United States prove the growing threat of Islamic radicalization [LINK: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Blotter/american-al-qaeda-now-pose-clear-threat-homeland/story?id=11972691].
"This threat is real, and we can hardly afford to ignore the motivating ideology behind nearly every recent homegrown attack, such as the Zazi plot (to attack the New York subway system), the Times Square (bomb plot), Fort Hood, the Portland Christmas bombing attempt, and numerous others," King added.