The Magazine

Dissecting Radical Islam

The importance of Representative Peter King’s hearings

Feb 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 20 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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The United States, of course, has a much stronger tradition of decentralized religious authority and independent religious schools than Europe, a tradition more conducive to interfaith ties than is control by national or international organizations. Yet some of America’s most prominent Muslim associations have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, and this ought to give us pause: The Brotherhood is all about fraternity with the larger Muslim ummah, the community of the faithful. Its conception of who the faithful are is not, to put it politely, ecumenical. And the Brotherhood’s eagerness to accept foreign funds and establish educational institutions that preach a faith tolerant of violence and of virulent Jew-hatred is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. American exceptionalism should never be discounted: What worked with all the mutually hostile Christian faiths of Europe will likely also neutralize the Islamic virulence that now comes from Europe and the Greater Middle East. But Islamic militancy is a very tough opponent. Its appeal is both ancient and modern. And the eminence of the United States—all militant Muslim conversations describe America as the preeminent threat to the faith—means that if a radical Muslim goes violent, his ideal target is American. This is the downside of the global appeal of Western values. 

Representative King can do us all a favor by focusing on two things: the FBI’s and DHS’s counterterrorist competence and the foreign funding of America’s mosques and Muslim institutions. Instead of asking officials in the FBI and DHS whether American-Muslim leaders have been helpful in combating Islamic radicalism and terrorism in the United States—which, according to press reports, is what King may do—the chairman should query the Bureau and Homeland Security about how knowledgeable their field officers and analysts are. 

Does the FBI, for instance, still informally discourage officers from spending too much time in the counterterrorism track since fewer arrests can be made in this line of work than in the traditional criminal pursuits where senior officers have usually made their reputations? European counterterrorist officers working the Islamic target are often much better than their American counterparts because they spend much more time mastering the subject. They have years to develop expertise, while in the Bureau, as in the Central Intelligence Agency, “experts” are often made in a year or two. How are the FBI and DHS building up expertise about the American-Muslim community and the Islamic terrorist target at home and abroad? It would be good if King actually called FBI and DHS agents and analysts to testify and just let them talk. Their dedication, knowledge, and finesse should become evident. 

King should also ask both Muslim Americans and FBI and DHS officials about Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati money coming into the United States. Does anyone have a good idea of how much money is coming from the Gulf to the United States? And does Gulf money ever fund “moderate” religious establishments or does it only go to Wahhabi/Muslim Brotherhood institutions? Is there actually a permanent office anywhere in the U.S. government trying to monitor the flow of this cash? How does the United States verify the religious pedigree of foreign Muslim preachers? Do we accept, for example, the Saudi embassy’s or Qatari embassy’s word on their good standing? The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has been on the cutting edge of radical missionary activity for 20 years. Do Jordanian Brothers come here to teach? Does anyone monitor foreign preachers after they’re here? Does Homeland Security collect, just for analytical purposes, the textbooks that are being used in Saudi-financed or Muslim Brotherhood schools in the United States? It would be good to have a public hearing on Islamic textbooks used in private schools. They just might be exemplary in their religious tolerance and their condemnation of violence against unbelievers; the odds for this aren’t good, however. Some of these questions are obviously sensitive and would best be answered in closed hearings, but they ought to be asked. 

There is nothing wrong with America’s elected representatives’ being doggedly curious about the activities of Muslim militants. It is not bigotry to engage in such questioning; on the contrary, a desire to fight bigotry, let alone terrorism, should motivate our representatives to be much more curious than they have been so far about Wahhabis and Muslim Brothers in our midst. And if any crude Islamophobes rear their ugly heads in these hearings, then Chairman King should be grateful for the opportunity to embarrass them. McCarthyism died, let us recall, in great part because its most egregious practitioners were publicly shamed.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, and the author of the forthcoming The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East (Hoover Institution Press).

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