WASHINGTON — Emotionally charged, full of theatrics and splashed with an ample helping of politics-as-usual, Congressman Peter King’s controversial and much-hyped hearing into the radicalization of Muslim Americans Thursday on Capitol Hill is sure to provide ammunition far into the future for both sides of the hotly debated issue.
Throughout more than four and a half hours, King, as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, directed members from both sides of the aisle as they listened and supported or critiqued testimony from four featured speakers: Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, Bdirizak Bihi, Melvin Bledsoe and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Jasser, a medical doctor, former U.S. Navy Lt. Commander, president of Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a Muslim himself, told committee members the community was polarized and stressed the need to confront what he described as “a dangerous internal theo-political domestic and global ideology…Islamism.”
Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis and also a Muslim, shared the heart-wrenching story of his nephew Burhan Hassan, who was radicalized, disappeared to Somalia and was shot and killed.
Bledsoe spoke of his son, Carlos Leon, who he said became brainwashed into Islamic extremism and radicalized, disavowing his former life in Tennessee—even taking a new name—before embarking to Yemen and enrolling in a terrorist training camp that fronted as a school. Soon, he was incarcerated in a Yemeni political jail, Bledsoe told committee members, “with true evil-doers—hard-core al-Qaida members who convinced him to get revenge on America.”
Bledsoe’s son was arrested in 2009 for the murder and attempted murder of two American soldiers at a U.S. Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 23.
In addition, several other Congressional members were also invited to address the committee; most notably, Minnesota Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslims in Congress, who became choked up and broke out in tears when recalling the case of Lake Grove resident Talat Hamdani’s son, a police cadet who died in the September 11th Terrorist Attacks on the World Trade Center.
He departed the chambers mid-testimony.
“This was an extremely productive and worthwhile hearing,” declared King in the Capitol’s Rotunda following the marathon session. “I am more convinced than ever it was the appropriate hearing to hold. We broke down the wall of political correctness on an issue that has to be addressed.”
“The committee members, we were the observers today,” he added, vowing the emotional discussion was only the first of many. The next hearing, he said, without giving a specific timetable, would focus on the radicalization of Muslim Americans in the nation’s prison system.
Not all committee members viewed the proceedings as a success, however, and besides tears, there were a great deal of sparks—primarily, as expected, along party lines.
Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee exploded during her five-minute allotment, branding the entire spectacle “An outrage!”
“It has already been tainted, this hearing! There are no loud signs of reason that are coming through this hearing!” she blasted, dressed in bright red, wearing a pearl necklace, wrapped in a pink-and-white scarf and clutching a miniature reprint of the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s a living, breathing document!” she exclaimed. “This breathing document is in pain!”
“Muslims are here cooperating,” Jackson Lee continued, after inquiring of Jasser whether he was a Muslim. “It is an irony and an outrage that we are wasting time when Muslims are testifying before us!” she again shouted. “This hearing today is playing into al-Qaida, right now, around the world!”
Following a brief shouting match between Jackson Lee and King she then clapped her hands, garnering King to rap his desk with a gavel.
California Democrat Rep. Laura Richardson then blasted King and the hearing for “setting a dangerous precedent” by not calling other religious groups to testify.
“I believe the narrow scope of this hearing is discriminatory and it is an abuse of power,” she charged.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, also a Democrat from California, took it a step further, criticizing the qualifications of Dr. Jasser, Bihi, Bledsoe and Baca outright and calling into question their validity as authorities on the matter at all.
“I don’t believe these are experts,” she said of the four. “I don’t think that they are necessarily very enlightening.”
“We’re not looking for certification,” responded Bibi several interviewers later. “Our kids died. We are trying to save the rest.”
Flare-ups aside, the rhetoric bounced between accusatorial and professorial, though the latter was few and far between.
Sheriff Baca, when asked by Michigan Republican Candace Miller for his understanding of the problem and a possible solution—one of several such requests for the four main speakers from committee members—he put it bluntly:
“Most Muslims don’t even know what the Koran’s all about,” he replied. “There’s reference to Mary Mother of Jesus in the Koran. You can’t be a Muslim unless you honor Judaism and Christianity.”
“That is my biggest advice: Get smarter on your own faith,” he said.
Potential solutions aside, holding the hearing became an almost crusade-like mission for King, who in recent weeks weathered a bevy of critical press concerning the planned inquiry that ranged from charges of McCarthyism to hypocrisy, given his substantial involvement and support of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) throughout the years—a recognized terrorist organization that utilized car and truck bombs targeting civilian populations and resulted in mass carnage in its campaigns, including the deaths of women, children and at least one American.
A longtime boxer with “a great left jab and great left hook,” his trainer told the Press recently, the blows didn’t slide off the lone Long Island Republican Congressman so smoothly this go-around. He had to take one last shot.
“I would hope now that this hearing is over, that the media in particular would look back and reflect upon the mindless hysteria that occurred over the last two or three weeks and not in the future rely so much on what components, such as CAIR [Council on American Islamic Relations, who King and other Republicans repeatedly assailed throughout the hearing as a terrorist group and King stated as an unindicted coconspirator in a major terrorist financing case] and others who do not want these type of hearings, say,” he told the swarm of newspaper, radio, television and online news outlets surrounding him in the Rotunda.
“I think the hysteria and the madness leading up to this hearing did nobody much good,” he added. “It certainly didn’t reflect well on those who were reporting it.”
[Long Island Press D.C. Bureau]