New York Times - Muslim "Radicalization' Is Focus of Planned Inquiry

News Article

By:  Pete King
Date: Dec. 17, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

By Raymond Hernandez

The Republican who will head the House committee that oversees domestic security is planning to open a Congressional inquiry into what he calls "the radicalization" of the Muslim community when his party takes over the House next year.

Representative Peter T. King of New York, who will become the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he is responding to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.

He cited the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan man and a legal resident of the United States, who was arrested last year for plotting to bomb the New York subway system. Mr. King said that Ahmad Wais Afzali, an imam in Queens who had been a police informant, had warned Mr. Zazi before his arrest that he was the target of a terror investigation.

"When I meet with law enforcement, they are constantly telling me how little cooperation they get from Muslim leaders," Mr. King said.

The move by Mr. King, who said he was planning to open a hearing on the matter beginning early next year, is the latest example of the new direction that the House will take under the incoming Republican majority.

Indeed, Mr. King, a nine-term incumbent from Long Island, said that he had sought to raise the issue when Democrats had control of Congress, but was "denounced for it." He added: "It is controversial. But to me, it is something that has to be discussed."

Mr. King's proposal comes amid signs that deep anxieties about Muslims persist in the United States nine years after the 9/11 terror attacks and an outcry over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York City this year.

Told of Mr. King's plan, Muslim leaders expressed strong opposition, describing the move as a prejudiced act that was akin to racial profiling and that would unfairly cast suspicion on an entire group.

Abed A. Ayoub, the legal director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Mr. King's effort ignored that Muslim leaders around the country had been working closely with law enforcement officials since the 2001 terror attacks.

"We are disturbed that this representative who is in a leadership position does not have the understanding and knowledge of what the realities are on the ground," Mr. Ayoub said, adding that Mr. King's proposal "has bigoted intentions."

Salam al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, also expressed deep concern and noted that his group was holding a convention this weekend at which members would discuss the impact that the Republican takeover of Congress could have on Muslims.

"He basically wants to treat the Muslim-American community as a suspect community," Mr. Marayati said of Mr. King. He added that Mr. King was potentially undermining the relationship that Muslim leaders had sought to build with law enforcement officials around the country. Tensions have occasionally erupted in recent years over counterterrorism measures that civil rights groups and others said had gone too far.

In 2007, for example, the Los Angeles Police Department was forced to abandon a plan to create a map detailing the city's Muslim communities after civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders denounced the effort as a form of racial profiling.

Mr. King has used his position on the House Homeland Security Committee to elevate similar issues. In 2006, when his party controlled the House and he was chairman of the committee, Mr. King was the first Republican in Congress to break ranks publicly with President Bush over the president's plan to give a company in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, control of six American ports. Mr. King joined Democrats in calling the port deal a potential threat to national security, and the deal eventually collapsed.

Mr. King also opposed the construction of an Islamic center near ground zero, urging the developers of the project to meet with 9/11 families to identify a more appropriate location for the center.

"This is such a raw wound, and they are just pouring salt into it," he said, referring to the developers of the proposed Islamic center.

Mr. King, who has conveyed his intentions to Republican leaders in the House, said he would seek comment from mainstream Muslim leaders so that the hearings he was planning to hold were not one-sided, with only people critical of Muslims.

But Mr. King suggested that Muslim leaders had minimized the extent of the problem he said he had identified. "They try to tell me that it is not as bad as it seems," he said.