Peter King's mega-hyped hearing on radicalization of American Muslims avoided his biggest targets.
Also in Slate, William Saletan describes Rep. Peter King's bait and switch at the hearing.
If that sounds like an awfully minor task for a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, it is. And as Adam Serwer pointed out, two relatively controversial thinkers invited to speak at the hearing were ditched because of—well, let's call it "political correctness."
The witnesses who did testify were Abdirizak Bihi and Melvin Bledsoe, whose sons had been radicalized and recruited into terrorism, and M. Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor who has pointed to evidence from the Holy Land Foundation trial to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical interests want to install Sharia law in the United States.
The fathers' testimony was riveting. Bihi said that religious leaders threatened him with "eternal hellfire and damnation" if they tampered with his son's decisions. Bledsoe said that radical Muslims were trying, and in some cases succeeding, to recruit young black men by telling them that they were living hopeless lives and they could do something about it by becoming terrorists. His son's imam, he said, encouraged him to head down that path.
Democrats were largely unimpressed. Rep. Jackie Speier compared the witnesses' level of expertise to the expertise she might have in pedophilia, since she volunteered at her Catholic Church. "While I appreciate the anecdotes of those who have spoken," she said, "I don't think they're particularly enlightening."
Bledsoe, encouraged by sympathetic Republicans, had a response to that. "I'm wondering how they [Democrats] got on the commission to speak about some of the things they speak about," he said. "Most of the people talking on the other side are talking about political fear. That's what I mostly hear here. There is a small population that we're talking about, Islamic extremists, we're worried about stepping on their toes, and they're talking about stamping us out."
In one respect, though, Speier was right. Jasser, who has appeared in two documentaries to lay out the connections between peaceful-sounding Muslim groups and terrorists, didn't go there in front of the committee. Republican attempts to make direct connections between peaceful-sounding Muslim groups and the horror stories of the witnesses hit a wall, largely because Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca (a Democratic witness) kept arguing that it was better to work with groups like CAIR than to call them terrorists.
"Basically, you're dealing with a terrorist organization," said Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican freshman from Minnesota, "and I'm trying to get you to understand that they might be using you, sir, to implement their goals."
"Thank you for asking that question," said Baca, "but it seems more like a possible accusation." The accusation didn't hold up. Remaining Republican questioners were limited to asking what, as members of Congress, they could do to figure all this out.
In a short press conference after the hearings ended, flanked by his witnesses, King pronounced the day a success. The next hearings, he said, might focus on radicalization in prisons. (The Senate's Homeland Security has held hearings on this issue with less fanfare.) In media terms, the hearings were a success, even if Rep. Keith Ellison's teary opening testimony was bound to take over some of the coverage. But if King wants to nail the people behind radicalization, why not bring in CAIR next time?
"The fact is that CAIR was named a terrorist co-conspirator in a terrorism funding case," said King. "I hope the media would realize that, rather just taking CAIR handouts and reporting them as they'd report on the Knights of Columbus."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.