Responding to these concerns, House Committee on Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote a letter to King on Feb. 1 requesting that the hearings include "a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups regardless of their ideological underpinnings." But one week later, King rejected Thompson's request outright.
Of course, most people within Muslim communities in the United States abhor violent extremism. But one thing is abundantly clear: Terrorist recruiters attempt to exploit any source of alienation from the West that they can find, whether it's the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the presence of U.S. troops in "Muslim" lands, or the collateral damage of drone attacks in Pakistan. Up until now, Muslim Americans have differed from their European coreligionists in their absence of internal alienation for al Qaeda recruiters to exploit.
This dynamic is at risk of changing, however. With the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, no resolution in sight to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Obama administration's inability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, some young and disaffected Muslims could grow increasingly vulnerable to the extremists' call. Take for example the self-styled cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, now based in Yemen and perhaps al Qaeda's most effective current recruiter, who brought the Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and others into the terrorist fold. American-born, Internet-savvy and fluent in both English and Arabic, Awlaki targets his hateful and violent online message at desperate and confused Muslim Americans, attempting to convince them that the United States is implacably hostile to their faith. King risks reinforcing these malignant conspiracy theories, ceding yet another propaganda victory to the United States' enemies.
The hearings could also foster mistrust between law enforcement agencies and Muslim communities, thereby weakening a crucial link in efforts to combat terrorism. Although King may believe otherwise, the Muslim community in the United States has cooperated and partnered with law enforcement for years. Tips from Muslim Americans have led directly to the foiling of a number of murderous plots. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim communities have helped U.S. security officials prevent more than 40 percent of al Qaeda plots threatening the United States since the 9/11 attacks. In the past year, that number spiked to three-quarters of all such plots.
Potential terrorist attacks that have been foiled with Muslim help include the arrest of five Northern Virginia men accused of attempting to join the Taliban and the May 2010 Times Square bomb plot, which was foiled when a Muslim vendor notified police of a suspicious-looking vehicle. These examples highlight the importance of community-oriented policing by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Why poison this crucial relationship through misguided and alarmist hearings?
To be fair, there is a chance that the hearings will serve as an opportunity to shed light on the reality of the terrorist threat. King's recently announcement that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim Congressmen, will testify are welcome signs.
But the risk that the hearing will reinforce dubious religious stereotypes and stir already high levels of anti-Muslim sentiment outweighs the potential benefits. If the hearings devolve into a political circus, here's hoping that sensible Americans will be willing to stand up for the rights and dignity of the Muslim American community.