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Fact-check: Radicalism in American Mosques

January 26, 2011, 12:03 pm | Posted by Nick Sementelli

peter_king.jpgScott Keyes at Think Progress had a good post yesterday outlining one of Rep. Peter King’s favorite “proofs” of radicalization in the American Muslim community that justify his upcoming hearings: the allegation that 80% of mosques in America are controlled by radical Imams.

As King identifies, the original source of the 80% figure was a 1999 address at a State Department open forum by an obscure scholar, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani.

What Kabbani revealed in a later interview, was that his figure was based on an entirely unscientific survey; his methodology involved him visiting a handful of mosques and making a personal judgment of whether they were radical. Of the over 2,000 Muslim places of worship in the U.S., Kabbani stopped in at 114, of which he decided ninety had been “mostly exposed…to extreme or radical ideology,” thus the 80%.

But this was only one of many dubious claims Kabbani made that day. In the same speech, he warned that Al-Qaeda had managed to obtain 20 nuclear warheads from the Central Asian mafia that would soon be smuggled into the U.S. in suitcases for attacks on major universities. He also alleged that major Muslim organizations advising the government were extremists, though he refused to identify the organizations when pressed.

Despite the obvious unreliability of the numbers or Kabbani’s expertise, it has served the purposes of right-wing activists eager to find support for their elaborate conspiracy theories about “creeping Sharia.” Rep. King made the smart decision not inviting these activists to testify at his hearings, but if he wants to be taken at his word that his hearings aren’t meant to cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community, he should start by not citing the work of suspect sources who use junk methodology to claim the vast majority of Muslim houses of worship foster extremism.

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