Radicalization in the Muslim community: Why Rep. Peter King's hearings fizzled.

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March 10 2011 7:45 PM

CAIR-Less

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.

Peter King. Click image to expand.
Peter King

There was a specter haunting the House Homeland Security Committee's hearing Thursday on "radicalization in the Muslim community." That specter was CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. As the hearings began, with huge lines of spectators and journalists still trying to get in, committee chairman Rep. Peter King said that there really wasn't any way to save Muslims from extremism as long as CAIR got taken seriously.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim community," said King, who was presiding over the hearing after three months of hype and outrage about its very existence. "This means that responsible Muslim-American leaders must reject discredited groups such as CAIR, which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist financing case involving the Holyland Foundation."

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King was referring to the scandal and trial that brought down what was, for years, the largest Islamic charity in the United States. In 2009, the Holyland Foundation's founders were handed life sentences in prison for illegally sending money to Hamas. That scandal, arguably, got less coverage than King's battle with CAIR from the day he announced the hearing to the day he finally put it on.

"In the lead-up to this hearing," said King, "I found it shocking and sad that the mainstream media accepted CAIR's accusations"—that King's hearings were a sham—"as if it were a legitimate organization."

The media, hurriedly typing and taping everything in the room, wasn't writing about CAIR today. No one from CAIR was at the hearing. King hadn't invited them.

"I think it might have been helpful if we were invited," said Corey Saylor, CAIR's legislative director, after the hearing. (CAIR put together a potemkin "testimony" anyway.) "So many of the attacks they leveled at us already have responses that have been out there for months."

The attacks got aired at the hearing, but the responses—which CAIR critics have dismissed many, many times already—didn't get aired. That was what King wanted. There wasn't much on display that couldn't be seen on a good night of Fox News programming, albeit with a bigger presence of carping, emotional Democrats.

And that was a surprise. On Tuesday, in one of the many comments King gave to Politico about what would happen in the hearing, he said he wanted skeptics to expect something like "the hearings that Bobby Kennedy had into labor-union corruption in the late 1950s." He was referring to the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, which met for four years (Kennedy was chief counsel) and called more than 1,000 witnesses to uncover corruption in unions. Union leaders showed up to defend themselves. They didn't do a great job of it.

Outside the hearing room, the people lining up were worried about a head-butting contest like that. Zak Delwahi, a Johns Hopkins student who wore a pin combining the American and Saudi flags on his jacket, said he wanted to witness "history," but thought the hearing set a terrible precedent and would probably make Muslims more fearful.

"I've seen TheGodfather, Part II," he said. "I know that these hearings are mostly for show, but that they're geared toward starting confrontations."

King's hearing went for another approach, sidestepping the chance to grill "discredited groups" in front of streaming CNN cameras. Instead, as King would say after the hearing, the goal was to break down "a wall of political correctness on an issue that has to be addressed."

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