Of Peter King’s two anecdotal witnesses for this week’s hearings on Muslim radicalization, one has a story that actually undermines King’s claims, and the second makes unsubstantiated terrorism accusations about Muslim organizations and possibly even Congressman Keith Ellison and the Democratic Party.
Abdirizak Bihi is a Somalian Muslim from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. In 2009, his nephew Burhan Hassan was killed in Somalia after traveling there to join Al-Shabbab, a terrorist organization working to overthrow the Somali government. Hassan was one of approximately 20 Somali youth from the Twin Cities area who made this trip, raising red flags in the community and attracting attention from the FBI.
Despite lacking any evidence, Bihi became convinced that these disappearances were being orchestrated, or at least covered up, by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations and began publicly attacking CAIR.
The article on the IPT website drew one comment, by a reader who identifies himself as Bihi. The commenter laments that the Somali community has been “kidnapped and hijacked” by a group of “wicked imams,” who are “working together to silence families.” In particular, the commenter alleges that these imams are:
“funded and supported by many elected officials like Congressman Keth Ellison and organizations like CAIR who have something to do with the missing kids.”
The alleged conspiracy only expands from there, incriminating the Somali American Coalition, the SEIU, and the Minnesota State Democratic Party at large.
Later, after an FBI investigation indicted eight individuals in connection with the disappearances, Bihi still refused to abandon his theories, reacting to the indictments by telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune that “this isn’t close anywhere to the big fish who were responsible for masterminding the recruitment of our kids.”
The FBI, however, seems to disagree. Contrary to Bihi’s claims, Ralph Boelter, the special agent who led the investigation remarked that the Muslim community couldn’t have been more helpful in the investigation. There have been no new disappearances since the indictments, and the investigation is being heralded by the FBI as a “model” for fighting terrorism without alienating Muslim-Americans.
Boelter said he is proud of the way his team worked on the case without damaging relationships in the Somali community, which was largely distrustful of law enforcement.
“Nothing came easy in this case,” Boelter said. “The victories came only after a lot of hard work.”
A big piece of the team’s work, he said, was understanding the dynamics of the Somali community and figuring out why the recruiting occurred. Boelter appeared on Somali television and radio shows and met with everyone from spiritual leaders to young people. Going forward, he said, that type of outreach should not be unique.
“If we have any hope of discerning threats, potential threats in the future or issues like this in the future, we’re going to have to do that hand-in-hand with the community,” he said. “We can never be fully transparent in the FBI, but if we are going to be successful in this new age of trying to defeat threats before they mature, we are going to have to be a little more transparent, and we are going to have to establish those public relationships.”
Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, believes Boelter’s work in the community helped. He said he thinks community members are more likely now to report troubles to law enforcement.
King appears to be calling Bihi to testify to prove his claim that Muslims aren’t cooperating with law enforcement, but again, the real story proves the opposite point.
Photo credit Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
UPDATE: This post has been revised since first publication to reflect that the identity of the IPT commenter has not been independently verified.
Bread for the World has compiled a list (pdf) of ten of the most damaging cuts in the continuing resolution the GOP-led House passed last week. You can view it here. A sample of the list:
Amount Cut (From FY10 Total)
Percentage Cut (From Y10 Total)
Head Start: A national program that promotes school readiness. More than 200,000 disadvantaged children ages five and under could lose services. The cut would also mean 50,000 lost jobs and 16,000 empty classrooms.
Food Aid (P.L. 480 and McGovern-Dole): These cuts would eliminate feeding programs for 18 million of the world’s hungriest and poorest people, including 15 million people suffering from hunger due to natural disasters and conflicts and 2.5 million children who get school meals through the McGovern-Dole program.
PEPFAR: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief supports life-saving drugs and treatment for more than 3.2 million men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR also provides care and support to 11 million people in more than 30 countries, including approximately 3.8 million orphaned and vulnerable children. Nearly 33 million people receive HIV counseling and testing through PEPFAR.
Peace Corps: Right now, 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in 77 developing countries in the areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, environment, agriculture, and youth development. Since 1961, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries.
The total savings from these cuts add up to around $5.2 billion, which may seem large, but is really less than one-half of one percent (.35%) of the budget deficit “necessitating” these drastic reductions. In comparison, Congress spent $81.5 billion.
This week as Congress debates deficits and spending, faith leaders are speaking up to make sure our elected leaders remember that budgets are moral documents.
Today, a group of prominent evangelicals held a teleconference announcing their statement outlining principles for moral budget decisions. The statement, “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis,” calls for “fiscal frugality and compassionate action” and proposes concrete ways of cutting the debt while protecting the poor and making moral investments for the future of our nation and world.
Speakers on the call included Shane Claiborne, Michael Gerson and Jonathan Merritt, as well as Dr. Gideon Strauss and Stephanie Summers of the Center for Public Justice and Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Today’s call comes in the wake of larger religious mobilization around the budget debates. On Monday, a group of Christian leaders led by Sojourners took out a full-page ad in Politico imploring legislators to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Cut?” and saying:
The deficit is indeed a moral issue, and we must not bankrupt our nation, nor leave a world of debt for our children. But how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.
And Wednesday, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, published an opinion piece in The Hill scolding representatives who identify as pro-life but support budget cuts that would harm women and children:
As a Catholic sister committed to defending the sanctity of human life, I support common ground efforts to protect life by helping pregnant women and preventing abortion. But it’s hypocritical and just plain wrong for lawmakers who tout their pro-life bona fides to then blatantly undermine life with budget proposals that will hurt pregnant women, mothers and children and likely lead more poor women to end their pregnancies.
As Congress moves forward in this debate, hopefully they will heed the advice of these faith leaders and keep the poor and vulnerable in the forefronts of their minds as they make tough decisions.
Last week, CNN’s Jeanna Moos interviewed Rep. Peter King about his upcoming “radicalization” hearings. At one point in the interview, Moos pressed King about his faulty claim that 80% of mosques are run by extremists.
MOOS: You just said that you feel that the number of extremists is small, but you’ve been quoted pretty extensively as saying that 80% of the mosques in the United States are run by extremists.
KING: In 2004, I said that 80% of the mosques were controlled by extremists. That was based on testimony in the year 2000 from Sheikh Khabbani who was testifying at a State Department hearing…Now I don’t know what to tell you, it could be more than 80% it could be less than 80%.
MOOS: Now it’s unclear how the Islamic scholar just mentioned came up with that 80% figure more than a decade ago. We did try to reach him but he was traveling out of the country. Last year though a study at Duke and UNC found that mosque attendance is a significant factor at preventing radicalization.
As we’ve covered before, we actually do know how this fringe scholar came up with this claim. He walked into a handful of mosques, made a personal determination if they were “radical” and came up with a number.The allegation was never supported with any real evidence or corroborated by any actual reports.
As he reveals in the interview, King is fully aware of the bogus statistic’s history, but just fails to see it as a problem. Even more disturbing, he seems to be saying that even debunking the claim doesn’t undermine the alleged need for his hearings. The number could be even higher than 80%, he casually alleges. Who knows?
The truth is that mosques are key institutions in the fight against terrorism. The 2004 Detroit Mosque study found that only 6% of the area’s mosque-attending population held views that could be described as extremist. And the study Moos refers to in her report identifying mosque attendees as less radicalized put out by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, whose research covers all of King’s questions in depth.
That King has so far ignored the preponderance of real data on this issue speaks volumes about the intentions of these hearings.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) had a powerful piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hill and on the Huffington Post today raising concerns about Rep. Peter King’s planned hearings on the “radicalization” of the Muslim-American community. Many of his concerns mirror those of the religious community– chiefly that the tone and approach King is taking will serve to alienate Muslim Americans and divide our nation at a time that calls for unity.” Many of his concerns mirror those of the religious community– chiefly that the tone and approach King is taking will serve to alienate Muslim Americans and divide our nation at a time that calls for unity.
In a letter we helped coordinate, Long Island faith leaders wrote to Rep. King:
Let us remember the lessons of history. Entire communities should never be targeted for suspicion of disloyalty. During World War II, Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights and forced into internment camps because of blanket distrust of their commitment to our country.
Rep. Honda, a Japanese American, provides a firsthand anecdote that reminds us of these lessons from history:
My father loved this country and proudly served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. Yet when I was a young child during World War II, we were confined for several years at Camp Amache, an internment camp in southeast Colorado, simply because we were of Japanese ancestry. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans were unjustly placed under scrutiny and suspicion because few in Washington were brave enough to say “no.”
…Now, decades later, something similarly sinister is returning to our country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is organizing congressional hearings on Muslim Americans….