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“The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” That’s the title of a hearing by the House Committee on Homeland Security which opened today. The committee chair says the hearing is “absolutely necessary” but critics say it puts Islam on trial. This isn’t the first time Congress has tackled the subject of homegrown terrorism, but the tone is different this time. Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder weighed in disputing the accusation that the Muslim community hasn’t helped law enforcement in terrorism investigations. Diane and her guests discuss reaction to the hearings on Muslims in America.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A hearing begins this morning on the extent of radicalization of Muslims in America. The man holding the hearing, chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, Republican Congressman Peter King, has been likened to Joseph McCarthy. But he says the hearings are necessary because Muslim leaders have failed to speak out against radical Islam. Joining me in the studio to talk about what this means for the American Muslim community, Akbar Ahmed of American University, Juan Zarate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Marshall Breger of The Catholic University of America.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your questions and comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, gentlemen.
PROF. AKBAR AHMEDGood morning.
MR. JUAN ZARATEGood morning, Diane.
PROF. MARSHALL BREGERGood morning.
REHMAkbar Ahmed, Congressman King says the hearings are a matter of national security. He says the Muslim community has not done enough to prevent radicalization from taking hold. What do you think?
AHMEDDiane, he has said that. He has also said that 80 or 83 percent of the mosques are radicalized. He's constantly blamed the Muslim community for not tackling radicalism. My response has been that in the context of the rather poisonous atmosphere against Muslims in the United States today, and there is a widespread hatred and distrust of all Muslims. And it's evidenced by the ugly incidents, attacking mosques and implementing hijab, et cetera, and also the great need for the American public to really understand is this a fact or is this not a fact? And, finally, the Muslim necessity to respond to these accusations and tackle them in a dispassionate, cool manner, perhaps in a scholarly manner.
AHMEDI think, considering all this, it's important that we have these hearings, so that these accusations or these doubts that the Congressman harbors are tackled. And if they are false -- and I know them to be absolutely inaccurate because he has got no study to back it. He's got no great ethnography from the Muslim community -- then he needs to be, actually, informed as, indeed, the American public needs to be informed.
REHMSo you believe the hearings do serve a purpose?
AHMEDI do. Diane, again, I repeat this, that in this culture, context is absolutely vital for Muslims not to back out to these hearings but to turn up there. And if they have nothing to hide, they should show they have nothing to hide and show their strengths and their culture and their -- the sophistication of their traditions and their history.
REHMAkbar Ahmed, he's chair of Islamic studies at American University. Turning to you, Juan Zarate, how do you see it, a matter of national security?
ZARATEWell, I think, in that context, Chairman King is right. What we've seen recently in the last couple of years is a spike of cases of Americans drawn to the ideology of al-Qaida, radicalized in greater numbers -- something that is of great concern to national security and homeland security officials, something that Janet Napolitano and Mike Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, have spoken to. And so there is a concern. That said, I think, tone and context matters here because painting an entire community with a broad brush can have equally negative impact in terms of our national security.
ZARATEAl-Qaida, I think, would love to see a renting of our society, where American Muslims feel to be other and not American. And, I think, we've got to be very cautious about how we go about this, but I do think the public conversation is important for precisely the reason Prof. Ahmed indicated. We've got to have a discourse about the realities of what's happening on the ground, what is this radicalization about, and, actually, we do need to enlist and empower Muslim Americans to help us deal with it.
REHMJuan Zarate, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also a senior national security analyst at CBS News. And turning to you, Marshall Breger, professor of law at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America. This morning, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said, in prepared remarks during the opening of the hearings, that Congress has a responsibility to make sure his words do not make problems worse. Do you think they could?
BREGEROh, certainly, they could. Look, I agree with Prof. Ahmed that this could be useful, but I don't think it's set up to be useful. If it were useful -- if it was set up to be useful and serious, Juan Zarate would be on the Hill testifying, rather than in this program. They would be bringing people who've done studies to talk about it. They'd be bringing leaders of the Muslim community. They'd bring in Muslim jurists. They'd be asking, how come you have, in 2005, issued a fatwa against terrorism? And is that working? Is that percolating through the Muslim community?
BREGERI think when a time -- when -- it definitely could make things worse. And I compare this to George Bush, who the week after 9/11 went to a mosque and said Islam is peace. And whatever -- he fought -- no one's going to say he was weak on terror, but he recognized that leadership was important to prevent paranoia.
REHMSo you believe that these hearings have the potential for creating that kind of concern within the Islamic community?
BREGERMore than potential. I think it's a likelihood the way it is structured. I mean, hearings on the Hill are always political theater, but you need to have some responsible leadership to manage and control that theater. And in a situation where people want to outlaw Sharia law, where they want to say there are too many mosques in America, where they want to forbid Muslim rituals, you have to tread very carefully. And I don't see any evidence that these hearings are doing that.
ZARATEI think -- one thing to keep in mind is, I think, there's been a lot of heat and not much light in terms of the hearings to date because we just haven't gotten into them. And I think today will be quite telling. But I think this is really an opportunity for the Muslim American communities. And I use plural -- communities -- intentionally because it's not a monolithic community. We have to keep that in mind. And it's a teaching moment for the American population writ large to understand the nature of the communities, what's been done to cooperate on counterterrorism, which has been significant.
ZARATEI saw the vast expansion of work with the FBI through the joint terrorism task forces around the country with the various community leaders and -- which has been phenomenal. I did a bunch of outreach when I was at the Treasury Department. So this is really an opportunity for the community to take ownership of these issues and to sort of cast off the notion that they've been in denial and that they've been defensive about these issues and to really take on these issues in a more powerful and concrete way.
AHMEDDiane, I agree with Juan. The Muslim community has been hammered again and again for not doing enough about the homegrown terrorists -- Islamic radicalism as it's called in the media. Now, I studied the community. As you know, I spent a year in the field studying them. I wrote of a book called, "Journey into America," and one chapter has a focus on the homegrown terrorists. These are important questions, Diane. We need to know, for example, who are the imams? What are their sermons like? What are they saying to the congregants? Who -- what is -- why are these youngsters being radicalized? What is the influence of the board running the mosque? What's happening to the community?
AHMEDThere is a kind of failure taking place, and the Muslim community needs to also be aware of the internal failures and the challenges it faces. So both, America needs to be informed of the community and the community of itself. Because, unless this happens, this kind of drumbeating and this kind of hysteria against the community is only going to push them deeper and deeper and deeper into themselves, and we don't want that. We don't want them to be isolated and not responding to a challenge like this. It's uncomfortable. It's heated. But it is an opportunity. It's a teaching moment, I believe.
BREGERWell, I'm happy to be wrong, and I certainly hope that it is a teaching moment. But I see nothing in the witnesses that suggest that. I mean, just the...
REHMTalk about the witnesses.
BREGERWell, just a sample, as I understand it, there is no one from law enforcement, except the minority as to have someone from law enforcement. So there's no one who can talk about how law enforcement views the cooperation. There's no one from the Muslim leadership to talk about what they're doing and what they're not doing and be even questioned about what they're not doing. So teaching moment, it should be, but is it?
REHMYou had Attorney General Eric Holder speaking out and saying that, in fact, the Muslim community had been helpful in a number of areas, so why these hearings?
AHMEDDiane, with great respect for my friend Marshall, there is a Muslim -- a very prominent Muslim on the community of witness. Keith Ellison, he is a star in the Muslim committee, a star in America itself. There is a law and order man, no one better than Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles -- knows the community very well. I had many extensive interview with him for my book. He's been to Pakistan. He's come back. He has the community eating out of his hands, and he is very well qualified to speak for them. So I would say that even a couple of these names, even if they are three or four, and they're up against a lot of hostility and misinformation or distortion, they're quite capable of handling anyone on that panel.
REHMIt's interesting that Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim himself, said, if you put every Muslim in America in jail, you wouldn't stop the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. You wouldn't stop the Oklahoma City bombing or Virginia Tech. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, more of our conversation. Your calls, your e-mail, I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about hearings starting on the Hill today on the Muslim community and its reactions to terrorism in this country. Joining us now is Charles Kurzman from Chapel Hill, N.C. He's there at the University of North Carolina. And good morning to you, sir.
PROF. CHARLES KURZMANGood morning. Thank you.
REHMI know that the University of North Carolina did a -- and Duke University did a study in 2010, which you updated just a few weeks ago, which you titled "Muslim-American Terrorism Since 9/11: An Accounting." Tell us about that study and what your conclusions were.
KURZMANThis study, which was initially funded by the National Institute of Justice, aimed to look at what Muslim Americans are doing to prevent radicalization in their community and found a number of activities that local communities were involved in. At the same time, we wanted to find out how many Muslim American terrorists there have been -- suspects and perpetrators since 9/11. And that list we've come up with is almost 170 individual over the past 9 1/2 years. That's not zero. It's a significant concern, and it's worth holding congressional hearings on, I believe.
KURZMANAt the same time, we wanted to put that in context. Those individuals have been responsible for 33 murders in the United States, 33 deaths since 9/11. At the same time, during that period, there have been approximately 150,000 total murders in the United States. So, fortunately, this has not been a leading cause of death.
REHMFrom your perspective, are Muslim Americans increasingly turning to terrorism?
KURZMANThere was a spike in 2009 with more than 40 individuals either charged or convicted of terrorism-related activities. These are violent plots only -- I should mention -- not terrorist financing cases, which are a separate category. That spike, though, is due primarily to the group of about two dozen young men who traveled to Somalia to join the Shabaab revolutionary organization there, which is on our terrorist organizations list.
KURZMANSince then, last year in 2010, that number dropped back down to approximately 20 individuals, back closer to where it's been in previous years. So there is no clear upward trend.
REHMAnd have there been some Muslims who have worked to prevent attacks here in the U.S.?
KURZMANYes. We see all sorts of community organizations trying to bring in young people who may be disaffected to channel grievances into the political process and away from the violence. In addition, when there are individuals who have gotten involved in violent plots, we see that a number of them have been turned in to authorities by Muslim American communities. Of the 120 individuals where we were able to determine the initial tip, the initial source of information on the plot that made the plot known to law enforcement -- 48 of those plots, 48 out of the 120 -- the source of the tip was a member of the local Muslim American community...
KURZMAN...including seven family members who were the initial source, expressing their concern to authorities about their family members becoming radicalized.
REHMNow, it's interesting that Congressman King has challenged your report on the number of Muslim terrorists in America, and he said that it's skewed and biased.
KURZMANYeah, I was hurt by that. And, in looking at his comments, it appears he hadn't actually read the report. He made a number of errors in his statement, claiming that the report included instances that we actually had not included. So I've issued a rebuttal. I don't know that anybody will pay attention, but it is striking that, when evidence comes out, it's not consistent with the approach that he has been taking. He has lashed out and challenged the evidence rather than putting forth his own evidence in any systematic way.
REHMAnd in addition to the hearings themselves, what's your reaction to the number and the kinds of witnesses that Congressman King has called for?
KURZMANI think that these hearings can be worthwhile, as Prof. Ahmed has stated. And I'm pleased to see that the witness list has changed since it was originally floated so that we do have some folks who are quite knowledgeable about the cooperation that's ongoing between law enforcement and Muslim American communities. And so I'd like to see this come -- what comes out of this be a focus on best practices, a focus on models of cooperation so that they can be extended to places where, perhaps, the cooperation has faltered, rather than bemoaning the utter lack of cooperation, which was the initial approach. I think we're turning to recognition of the importance of cooperation and trying to copy the best practices and expand on that.
REHMDo you think that you would have been a valuable witness?
KURZMANMy phone hasn't rung yet.
REHMIt hasn't rung yet, but do you think you should have been called?
KURZMANIf asked to serve, I would be pleased to.
REHMAll right. Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina, thank you so much for joining us. I want to go back, gentlemen, to the question I posed just before the break, and it really wasn't a question. It was a statement. You've got Congressman Ellison, who is a Muslim, saying, even if you put every Muslim in America in jail, you wouldn't have stopped the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the Oklahoma City bombing or Virginia Tech. In other words, these acts of terror were not carried out by Muslims. Marshall Breger.
BREGERWell, it's true. But in some sense, it's not relevant. That is to say, we have to worry about why mental illness can lead someone to shoot the congressman. We need to worry about what there is about extremist right-wing Christian theology that leads someone to Oklahoma City bombing. And we don't have to worry about homegrown Muslim radicalism. My problem is not saying, well, look at the others 'cause one is too much. The problem is, is this project of Peter King's one designed to have a happy ending? And, I think, my colleagues are a little optimistic in that regard.
REHMThey are more sanguine about these hearings. Juan Zarate.
ZARATEMaybe it's the worst part of my nature. I tend to be optimistic. But, you know, I think it's fair to ask the question of whether or not we overemphasize the nature of this threat. I think that's a completely legitimate question. That said, I think that statement from Congressman Ellison actually can do some damage for a couple of reasons. I think you have to be careful with the language. Again, no one here is talking about internment camps, and so just the premise of putting all Muslims in prison as a premise to set up the argument isn't helpful.
ZARATEAnd, secondly, that very comment will feed the argument by those who say that the Muslim American community does not want to face some of the concerns and threats in their communities because the nature of this threat is different than some of these others that we face, whether it's domestic terrorism or other acts of violence in the U.S. In the first instance, in some ways, al-Qaida is trying to take full advantage of it. You see the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki doing his very best to be the siren song for American radicalization, giving fatwas for the killing of American citizens, calling it a duty.
ZARATEAnd you have the very nature of it being different. You could imagine, for example, Diane, if the Najibullah Zazi plot had gone through. This was the American-Afghan who was plotting against the New York subway system. If that had occurred, that would have been a major event in our country. And so, I think, we've got to be careful about trying to downplay too much the nature of the threat because all you need is one of these cases to erupt, and then you've got a problem. And one of my concerns, Diane, is if we don't have this conversation early, if you do have an incident like this, with American Muslim involved in an attack in the homeland, and it's significant, what does the backlash look like then?
ZARATEAnd so we've got to have this discussion, the best practices up front, so that we don't get into that situation.
REHMWhat about Attorney General Eric Holder's statement that the Muslim community, indeed, has been of help?
ZARATEI completely agree. And I think -- again, the problem here is painting things with a broad brush. I mean, there are extremely great examples of cooperation with law enforcement, with government agencies, both state and local and federal. There are examples where some communities haven't been all that helpful, and that's, you know, something to be discussed. But I don't think you can paint it with a broad brush. The other thing I would say -- and Prof. Ahmed and I were talking about this before -- in some ways, the hearings are coming a little bit late to the game in terms of how the community has perceived the threat. In terms of defensiveness and denial, I think that was largely the way the community was addressing this issue back in '03, '04, '05.
ZARATEIt's very different now, starting in '08, '09 and onward, and especially after Fort Hood, where groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council, you have Imam Magid at the Adams Center here in Northern Virginia, being very proactive in putting in place programs to deal with the radicalization problems in their midst. And so, in some ways, I think the American Muslim community feels a little bit whipsawed. They're saying, look, we are doing these things. People aren't paying attention.
REHMSo the question becomes, is this hearing or series of hearings going to be helpful or hurtful to that very community?
ZARATEI hope it's helpful. If this is not just political theater and there is substance here, I think it's helpful because there's a real problem. We've got to address it and admit it, and it's a problem that, at its base, is about radicalization and Muslim identity that al-Qaida is trying to take advantage of. And there's also much more fear and misunderstanding about Islam today than there was in any point after 9/11, which is quite ironic.
BREGERWell, my problem is I don't see what the hearings are going to do to address or allay the fear and the misunderstanding about Islam. There's a kind of open season on Islam now. You can say things about Islam you can't say about Judaism, you can't say about the (word?) ...
REHMGive me an example.
BREGERWell, you could say that Sharia law should be outlawed. No one -- I'm an observant Jew. No one would say that Halakha, Jewish law, should be outlawed. They say there are too many mosques in America. No one is going to say there are too many synagogues in America. So, I think, the hearings have to be seen in this broader context of increased fear in the American public. And I'm afraid -- or I fear that these hearings will feed this paranoia.
REHMMarshall Breger, he is professor of law at the Catholic University of America. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Prof. Ahmed.
AHMEDDiane, I want to take off from where Marshall had finished, which is to point to these general Islamophobia that's prevalent, where the Muslims and the Muslim community do point out that we are being singled out, exactly as he said in the examples he gave, that no other community is being treated with this kind of disrespectful and loss of dignity as the Muslims are. Now, the dimension I want to raise, Diane, on your show is the international dimension. We are living in an interconnected world.
AHMEDRight now, we have hundreds of thousands of young men and women serving in the army in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and their leaders, their generals and ambassadors and diplomats are desperately trying to win hearts and minds. In a time of high anti-Americanism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and so on, now all of this is not helping them. And that is why, as evidence, we have Gen. David Petraeus, unprecedented in the middle of war, appealing to Pastor Terry Jones last year not to burn the Quran. It's not going to help him or his troops. We need to be very conscious to have these hearings, keep them dispassionate, scholarly, without emotion, without accusations. Don't demonize the Muslim community.
AHMEDLet the Muslims speak for themselves. Let witnesses speak. Get credible witnesses, community leaders. Get the imams to speak. We hear so much about the radicalized imams. Why aren't imams being called to speak? If 83 percent of mosques are radicalized, we want to hear some credible African-American imams, Asian imams, Arab imams, white-convert imams come and talk to us about their congregations and dispel this nonsense around Islam because all this time, in the end, it will not be helping us overseas, which is very important right now in American foreign policy.
REHMJuan Zarate, some critics have likened these hearings to McCarthyism. What's your reaction?
ZARATEI think that's overstatement. I think we have to see what the hearings actually bring and what can be...
REHMBut isn't the very fact that the hearings are being held, focusing on one group of Americans, isn't that, in itself, raising questions?
ZARATEIt raises sensitivities, no doubt. But it's a serious conversation that needs to be had because this type of radicalization is happening in Muslim American communities. You cannot deny that. And in many ways -- and this is something that I argued when I was in the Bush administration -- you have to have the full cooperation of Muslim Americans who view this as an issue that they have to take ownership of in many ways. They have to see themselves as enlisted and empowered.
ZARATEAnd so, to the extent that the hearings can actually move that agenda forward -- and it's not a matter of demonizing the community, it's not a matter of false accusations, but it's actually a matter of how do we, as Americans, deal with this issue together and how do you, as Muslim Americans, help us understand how to deal with this in your communities -- that, I think, can be very productive. And I don't think that's McCarthyism, but, again, I think tone and context matters here. So we'll just have to see.
BREGERWell, I'm never quite sure what McCarthyism is, except that it's bad. But…
BREGERReal bad, yes. But there's no doubt, in my mind, that we're in this period -- which it recurs in American history -- of fear and focus on a particular ethnic group. We add it with the know-nothings, anti-Catholic riots, burning down of convents, the Chinese Exclusion Laws after the Civil War, all -- belief that the Jews and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were going to control the world and the country. So we have a kind of tendency in the America -- kind of undercurrent of this paranoid style. And I think this is coalescing now, and these hearings reflect it. And I don't -- my concern is, they reflect it, but they do nothing to manage it, to control it.
BREGERAnd I've been at various political conferences and meetings when I've seen -- I was at the CPAC meeting a few weeks ago. And I've seen how intense this fear is, and, I think, it's -- what -- it's important for political officials, responsible legal officials is to manage it, control it. Go to the part that's going to talk about best practices, not about the part that's going to stoke fears.
REHMMarshall Breger, he is professor of law at Catholic University of America. Akbar Ahmed, he is at American University and Juan Zarate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We'll open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about the hearings beginning on Capitol Hill today, looking at the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community's response. Now, these hearings are being held up by the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and he says that the -- that Islamic radicalism could be used by terrorists to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers. Let's open the phones to Springfield, Va. Good morning, Heidi. You're on the air.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, please.
HEIDIYes. I would like to make a comment and then, of course, your guest can respond...
HEIDI...to the question. But I am an atheist, a socialist, as a -- and a woman. And I'm not afraid of the Muslims in this country. I am afraid of having to prove myself one day in the Congress. And the important thing in America for me is the right and the freedom to have belief and to express that. The problem in this hearing and the people on your show saying that the Muslim community have not done enough to condemn radical Islam, it is beyond censoring what I believe and demanding that I condemn what those that I share a belief in, might do. And that is really scary.
ZARATEWell, I would think that we were not saying that not enough has been said. I think there have been many in the Muslim American community who've spoken out against terrorism. And I think, you know, the caller raises a good point, though. This can't be about thought control or trying to, you know, bully a community into particular beliefs. In fact, you know, we welcome -- under the First Amendment -- anti-American beliefs and policies and every citizen's right to do that. So that's absolutely right. But I think that's different from having an honest conversation about what's happening in some of these communities and what those communities can do to help address it.
ZARATEYou know, tone matters in all this. And the one thing I would say is I really don't like the title of these hearings. When you end it with that community's response to radicalization in the community, I would have preferred something like, and our response. What's our response? And I think that's really the issue here. It's not -- in my opinion, it's not about thought control. It's not about imposing beliefs. It's about, what do we do about a very real problem?
REHMHere's an e-mail from Joan in Cleveland, Ohio, who begins by saying, "How dare he. I am a black, 62-year-old woman. Where were the hearings when my people were terrorized by Christians in this country? Where were they when our churches were burned and bombed with children inside? Where were the hearings when we came up missing? Oklahoma still does not want to talk about what happened in Tulsa, yet he can point a finger at Islam." Marshall Breger.
BREGERLook, I understand her point. We have a situation here. It's like the queen of spades in "Alice in Wonderland," verdict first, trial later. And I think that moves us away from where we want to be, which is, what is the problem and what are the best practices to resolve the problem, and how better to bring the Muslim community into cooperation. And if you play gotcha politics, if you say, we want you to condemn X or Y or else we don't agree -- trust you, then you're not going to people to cooperate. So the goal is good, but I have to say I don't see how we're moving properly towards that goal.
REHMAll right. To Belmont, Mass. Hi there, Sarah. Sarah, are you there?
SARAHHello. Yes. I wanted to make a couple of points. The first is that Peter King used to support the IRA when they were blowing up people in Britain. And, now, he has the nerve to call other people terrorists. And the second point is that the vast majority of the plot that has been uncovered are actually manufactured by the FBI. I mean, they have come in with the idea, the plan, the materials, the money, and they've basically sending an agent to prove -- to act as a provocateur. And so if the FBI would stop entrapment, there would not be this spike in power.
AHMEDI appreciate Sarah's point, Diane. But as a Muslim, as a proud Muslim, I would really go back to my point, that this can be a teaching moment. We have to step up and say this is not Islam. You're accusing us of this. This is not Islam, and it should end. I mean, this hatred, this Islamophobia is really like a boil. It needs to be pricked. It needs to be pricked by the truth, by scholarship, by learning, by ethnography. And, once and for all, we need to finish it because Marshall is right. It is an "Alice in Wonderland" kind of environment. Now, in that, the only thing that can prevail is honesty, integrity, truth and scholarship. And I hope, in the end, this is what will result from the hearings.
AHMEDIf it doesn't, we are in trouble.
REHMIn an e-mail to his supporters on Wednesday, Congressman King said, "He will not back down to the hysteria created by my opponents and will continue with the hearings." This morning he released a statement saying that there was going to be increased security. He's got security in his home district, stepping up security here at the hearings. Does he risk a huge backlash because of these hearings, Juan?
ZARATEI think that's the real danger of these hearings, that they don't actually produce anything of substance or of material worth in terms of getting at the root of the problem of radicalization, but instead stoking not only fears of Muslims and Islam, but actually creating greater resentment and alienation. I think, you know, one of the things we have to keep in mind is that the threat from this radicalization is about a sense of exclusionary identity that requires then violence to sort of perpetuate that identity. That's what al-Qaida tries to do.
ZARATEIt tries to convince people that they don't belong to their societies, that they have a duty, a religious duty to defend fellow Muslims. And, as a part of their Muslim identity, they should attack. And so, you know, we've got to walk a fine line here because we've got to talk about the realities of that, but we can't do things either in tone context or diction that will actually perpetuate a sense of other or to create that sense.
REHMBut is a congressional hearing the place to do that?
ZARATEWell, that's a very good question. I don't think we should shy away from public debate. And to the extent that we use congressional hearings as a form for public debates, I don't see a problem with it. Again, I think the tone, the context matters. And, in some ways, you know, with all the folks on Chairman King, I think the messenger is getting in the way of the message here.
REHMWho are the witnesses scheduled to testify today, Prof. Ahmed?
AHMEDDiane, I think, so far, Juan is right that the first reports were of people who are known in the community, certainly, as being hostile to them. And there was a lot of concern, anxiety, anger, but as the names unfolded -- and we are hearing that Keith Ellison, in fact, he's on now and Sheriff Lee Baca and Dennis McDonough from the White House, who, on Sunday, was with the Muslim community at the Adams Center, gave a very powerful statement on behalf of President Obama reassuring the community. I really feel that we have -- and, you know, I pray this works. I pray that we're able to have a serious, substantive discussion about Islam in America.
REHMWe are told that Congressman Ellison reportedly teared up during his testimony during the hearing when he talked about a 9/11 Muslim first responder who was killed on Sept. 11, Salman Hamdani. He said his life should not be identified just as a member of an ethnic community but as an American who gave his life on 9/11. Let's go to Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Nate.
NATEGood morning. I just have a real quick statement to say. I am an American Muslim. I came to Islam before the 9/11 attacks. And I've been to several groups on the Eastern Seaboard and in Texas. They have never heard anything but condemnation of these type of attacks at the mosque. I've never heard anything -- you would have to preach against the tenets of Islam to say otherwise. And I encourage, rather than necessarily having a congressional meeting, maybe these people should go to the mosque. I encourage them to go to the mosque, hear what's being said. You'll be -- you know, open arms, come in and see the -- listen to what the imam is saying.
NATEI think that would -- that would alleviate a lot of the mistrust. If they would actually just come to the mosque, listen to what the imam has to say, a lot of their fears would go away quickly.
REHMI think that's an interesting point. Marshall Breger, have you attended many services within the mosques?
BREGERWell, I've been to a number of services. I don't know about many. And I'm always impressed by the piety and the authenticity of the people. Let me just say this. You know, I think this conversation that's going on is really not about the extent of Muslim radicalization, which it should be about. It's really about the place of Islam in American society. And we've seen American society expand from being a Protestant country before World War II, to being a Judeo-Christian country after World War II and the beginning to include Islam as an Abrahamic faith. And then we now have this huge pullback and reconsideration.
BREGERAnd, I think, that's what is the subtext to this conversation -- even though I also think that the discussion of Muslim modernization is very important. But that's -- people are not shouting about that. What they're really shouting in is that they have some view about the place of Islam in America.
REHMDo you agree?
AHMEDI would even say, Diane, it's more than just about Islam in America. I would really see -- and that is why there's so much passion in this debate. This is a debate, really, about American identity. What does it mean to be an American? Because at the heart -- and Keith Ellison, I know him. He's a friend of mine, and I can understand why he was moved to tears this morning. He's a passionate American. He believes in the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in this country. He's also a passionate Muslim. A person like that, or any Muslim living in America today, would really be heartbroken at the kind of nonsense they have to hear day in and day out about their religion, about their God, about their prophet, about their holy book.
AHMEDAnd this is what is at stake because at the heart of the vision of the Founding Fathers, Diane, is the concept of religious pluralism. It is much more than Islam alone as a community. You know, it's 2 percent of the community. And as Juan said, we may not be wanting to lock them all up in internment camps -- and that may not ever happen -- but it really is about something much, much, much bigger.
AHMEDIt's about this great country.
REHMTo Lester in Hardin, Ill. Good morning.
LESTERGood morning. Thank you, Diane. My comment is simply this, to suggest that Congressman King's primary motive is to get at the facts in an honest way, move the conversation forward, perhaps teach -- create a teaching moment, rather than primarily cater to his face, I think, is utterly naïve. I would like to see it as positive. But given the Congressman's comments, et cetera, I'm very, very skeptical.
REHMThanks for your call. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to comment, professor?
AHMEDWell, Diane, I'm a great admirer of Winston Churchill, and he did say that the Americans ultimately will always get it right. And I have great faith in the American -- great American public. And, of course, he added, after exhausting all other possibilities. So let us exhaust this. And, in the end, I'm sure we will get it right.
REHMDo you want to comment, Marshall Breger?
BREGERNo. No. I can't speak for Congressman King. There's no -- politics are always involved with congressmen. I mean, so, you know, you can't be naïve about what's going on, and hearings are political theater. I've been in enough hearings to know that, so...
BREGERThere's obviously other things that play. But I think the hope here -- the hope is that it's a start of a more positive dialogue when all these other trends are negative, as my colleagues here have said. I think we're at a moment where we have to have a discussion about what it means to be American together in dealing with these issues. And we can't create a sense of other with our Muslim American brethren. We just can't.
REHMAll right. To Centerville, Md. Good morning, Susan.
SUSANHi. I have a comment, and then I have a question. I first just want to say that I think this is completely wrong. I think it stems from a lot of paranoia. And I think that we forget that Muslims are Muslims, but they're also Americans. And I think that other radical groups exist, and we don't ask other religious groups to answer for their radical -- radical groups in other countries. That being said, I mean, these hearings are happening, and we want this to be pro Muslim. We want this to be able to educate Americans about the Muslim community. But how is that going to happen? How can we change this so that it is pro Muslim, so that we are pushing for more education and more, you know, American embracing Muslim communities?
BREGERThe media, maybe even talk show hosts, are always interested in man bites dog. Good news. They don't...
BREGERIt's good news they don't want to hear about. In 2005, the Fiqh Council of North America, which is a leading American Muslim jurist, issued an absolute condemnation of terrorism -- a fatwa -- which presumably, all the imams in America would accept because these are the leading scholars. They got no publicity. They issued again. It got no publicity. So, I think, what has to be done is a real effort to try to bring to the public consciousness what is going on, the nature of the cooperation, how it's working, the efforts to condemn radicalism. And I think that that will make a difference, but it has to be begun.
REHMDo you think it could come out of these hearings?
BREGERWell, I don't see any evidence that it will because I don't see the hearings being set up in that way.
REHMYou see them stacked in another way?
BREGERI think that the list of speakers -- let me put it this way. You can't say no to a fellow congressman joining a hearing. That's a courtesy. The police commissioner from Los Angeles was a minority pick, the Democrats' pick, not the majority pick. So I don't see the choices being choices that are designed to promote the goals that my two colleagues here want to promote.
REHMWe'll have to leave it at that. Marshall Breger is professor of law at the Catholic University of America. Akbar Ahmed is chair of Islamic Studies at American University. His latest book is "Journey into America." And Juan Zarate, senior adviser with the Center for a Strategic and International Studies, senior national security analyst at CBS News. Thank you all so much.
BREGERThank you, Diane.
AHMEDThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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