Dems Provide Productive Framing for an Otherwise Dangerously Divisive King Hearing

By Alice Thompson, a Winter/Spring 2011 Education Fund intern.

In a surprising turn of events, it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who led yesterday’s Homeland Security Committee hearing in the House. The hearing, entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in Muslim Communities and that Communities Response,” led by Chairman Peter King, was intended to target Muslims as a growing threat to security within American communities. But Democrats quickly grabbed the reigns and turned the discussion to whether or not the hearings themselves singled out and ostracized a group that is as likely as other racial or religious community to produce extremists.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MI), the first Muslim American member of Congress, broke into tears as he spoke about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a young Muslim American who died working as a paramedic at the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks and was later accused of being an accomplice for months following his death, simply because of his religion. “Twenty-nine Muslims died at the World Trade Center,” he said. “Three Muslims died on hijacked airplanes, United Flight 175 and American Flight 11. Muslims stood with the rest of America united in grief, and in our resolve to protect America.”

L.A. Sheriff Leroy Baca also gave a key testimony on the dangers of framing the Muslim community as unusually prone to religious extremism.  Baca noted community engagement programs within the LAPD that worked to build bridges and prevent acts of terror with all communities, not just Muslim ones.  And Baca emphasized the help he had received from Muslim communities while fighting extremist crime.  Even King must have learned something when he listened to Baca: “Radicalization affects all groups, regardless of religion.”

King said his hearing was a success, and I agree with him, but I doubt that his initial intent had anything to do with the kind of success that the hearing actually achieved. Instead of of stirring up anger and fear focused on a single community, the hearing provided a platform for Muslim and non-Muslims alike to clarify that terrorism is not a Muslim problem, but a systemic problem, and requires community engagement and systemic change.