The congressman's latest hearing on radical Islam in U.S. prisons was vital, but lacked crucial witnesses and substance.
Poor Peter. The burdens that come with exposing the problem of radical Islam in America are falling squarely on Congressman Peter King’s shoulders. This is because he, almost single-handedly, has taken up the mantle of leadership on this issue in the form of congressional hearings. This is a daunting task no doubt, and he is to be commended for both his efforts and his courage.
It was therefore a grave disappointment when last week’s hearing, titled “The threat of Muslim-American radicalization in U.S. Prisons” fell flat. Indeed, it left the observer wondering what the goal of the hearing was. If it was to educate the public, it utterly failed. If it was to raise awareness, it did no such thing. To the contrary, an objective observer uneducated on this topic would likely walk away believing that the trend of Islamist radicalization in U.S prisons is minute, perhaps irrelevant, and certainly not a serious threat. It might reasonably have been concluded that prison gang violence, discrimination against poor black men, a lack of rehabilitation and social injustice should have been the subject of the hearing. After all, why is Poor Peter picking on radical Muslims and not radical Jews or radical Christians? It just doesn’t seem fair. And without further explanation, it doesn’t even seem constitutional.
Confining their answers to the questions being asked by the committee’s congressmen, the witnesses were able to eke out bits and pieces of useful information. Yes, some people become radical Muslims in prison; yes, some Muslims in prison have formed or joined terrorist cells, and yes there are some inmates who want to supplant the U.S. government with Sharia law.
But without context and a clear purpose of what the hearing was intended to achieve, the viewer was left at the mercy of information elicited by congressmen who might not know much more about this subject than they do. It is conceivable that some congressmen might even have had a contrary political agenda.
This is the inevitable result when committee staff selects witnesses who are apologists for Islamism or who are unable to explain the relevance of the issue at hand. The first witness, Patrick Dunleavy, former Inspector General of the New York State Department of Corrections and author of “Fertile Soil of Jihad” (a book about Islamic radicalization in prisons) did his best to explain the problem in the five minutes allotted. The other three witnesses gave testimony counter to the conclusion that Chairman King presumably wanted the audience to conclude. Sociology Professor Bert Useem from Purdue University (the Democrats’ witness) insisted that it is impossible for prisoners to be inculcated with extremist literature in jail because such literature is prohibited (ignoring other witness testimony that this literature abounds in jails anyway). Kevin Smith, former Assistant U.S. Attorney from California, told the audience about some specific cases of terrorist cells forming in prison, but they sounded like isolated incidents. And, Michael Downing from the L.A. Police Department praised Islam as “one of the most peaceful religions in the world but it has been hijacked.” He insisted that working with the Muslim community is the best defense to countering terrorism. Additionally, he asserted that the Islamic ummah would likely be “shocked” and not proud to learn about the extremist interpretations of Islam that inmates are learning in prison. Yet, he emphasized that California jails examine “suspicious activity” and made no mention of monitoring the underlying ideology.
During the question and answer period, several congressmen used their allotted time to grandstand rather than extract information from the witnesses. Some of the performances were quite impressive. Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-Michigan) was practically in tears as he shouted that discrimination against poor black men constituted the real problem with jails and that the focus on Islamic radicalization is merely a “distraction”. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) seemed certain that criminal gangs are more of a threat to America than Islamists. Congresswoman Laura Richardson (D-CA) and others insisted that radical Christians and radical Asians and radical every-other-group are all equal threats. Further, Richardson professed that singling out radical Muslims constitutes discrimination “based on race or religion.”
Undoubtedly, Peter King’s staff realized that criticism for holding hearings on radical Islam would be inevitable. They knew too, that there are people on both sides of this issue whose positions are fixed and cannot be swayed by congressional hearings. Their target audience should have been those in the middle who are uninformed but open-minded. Their goal should have been to educate the public and raise awareness, to present testimony that would rightly demonstrate why the Chairman’s concerns are founded. Ideally, the three witnesses selected by the Republicans would have provided facts within a framework that could have served as the basis for concurring with the Chairman’s conclusions.
The selected witnesses should have incorporated the following information into their initial presentations:
- What is the definition of radical? Is it just violence or the underlying ideology?
- Is there a difference between prisoners who might become “radical Christians” or “radical Jews” and those who become radical Muslims? Which is the largest national security threat and why?
- Is Islamic radicalism a religion as the west understands it or is it more of a political ideology? Does it make sense to single out the radicalization of Muslims as opposed to other religions?
- Can you be specific about how radical Islamist ideology is a threat to national security and freedom including freedom of religion?
- How is Islamist radicalism different from gangs and thugs? Can you place this in a national security context and tie it to the War on Terror?
- Is it possible that “credentialed Imams” are radicals as they are in the military program, established by now-jailed Alamoudi?
- Why did the 9/11 Commission single out Imams as problematic rather than all jail clergy?
- Though the number of radicalized Muslims in jail might be small, as were the 19 hijackers from 9/11, what is the risk of ignoring this problem?
- What is the process of radicalization and what can be done to prevent it?
- Is the radical Islamic ideology a problem when prisoners are released from jail?
- Can the problems that the EU is having with radical Muslims happen here in the U.S.?
Little of this was confronted in the original testimony. Of course it was appropriate for the Democrats to have a witness who does not believe that the radicalization of Muslims in prison is prevalent enough to pose a national security threat. After all, reasonable minds can differ. However, it was imperative for the Republican panel to include witnesses who would explain the dangers of radical Islam as a political ideology and to identify this underlying ideology as a threat to national security and American freedom. It was a mistake to allow Democrats to frame the issue as a prison problem rather than a national security threat. The Chairman pointed this out, but in order to have any impact, the witnesses needed to present facts and analysis that would lead the audience to the same conclusion.
Congressman Peter King should be commended for raising issues critical to the national dialogue and for having the fortitude to withstand the onslaught of criticism that he bears.
Let’s hope that in preparation for the next hearing in this series, Peter King’s staff does a better job in witness selection, obtaining subject matter expertise, and drawing out testimony that explains why Islamism is a problem in the U.S. Chairman King and the American public deserve no less.
Deborah Weiss, Esq. works for Vigilance and is a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine and the American Security Council.