Posted by on June 15, 2011 in Blog

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, continued his baseless examination of the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community today, hosting his second hearing on the subject entitled “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons.”  King’s first hearings back in March garnered considerably more attention from the media than today’s. The relative lack of attention (even from Rep. Keith Ellison, who was in and out of the room half the time) demonstrates how ineffective King’s first hearing was.

As in March, a number of committee members, including ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-MS), expressed concern about the merits of the proceeding itself. “Limiting this committee's oversight of radicalization to one religion ignores threats posed by extremists of all stripes,” said Thompson, whose remarks were echoed by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), who called the hearing “racist and discriminatory.”  Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) echoed those concerns, saying that the problem is not “with Islam, it’s with the sentencing system” and urged great focus on rehabilitation.

As witness testimony began, Professor Bert Useem of Purdue University argued that “prisons have not served as a major source of radicalization.” Pointing to his own extensive academic research, Useem stated that that correctional leadership has done an effective job of preventing inmate access to radical persons and materials, and that radicalization in US prisons simply is not a compelling threat to America’s national security. 

Many of the lawmakers and witnesses lacked the basic knowledge of Islam necessary for an accurate assessment of the issues at hand. For instance, there was no distinction between Sunni and Shia Islamic beliefs and those of the Nation of Islam. Notably absent from the proceedings were any clear statistics to support the idea that Islamic radicalization in prisons poses a threat.

The one recommendation that came from the hearings was from Michael Downing, commanding officer of Counter terrorism and Special operation at the Los Angeles Police Department. To avoid conversions to a "hijacked cut-and-paste version of Islam" that is spread by inmates who have little understanding of standard Islam, Downing suggested increasing the number of imams visiting the prison —  a number that has been reduced in recent years because of budget cuts.



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