By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, March 9, 2011;
One of the odder exchanges I've ever seen during a congressional hearing involved Attorney General Eric Holder, Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith and the phrase "radical Islam."
Smith, at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee last May, cited three recent terrorist incidents: the Fort Hood shooting rampage, the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. "Do you feel that these individuals might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?" he asked Holder.
The attorney general did his best not to go there. "There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions," he said. "I think you have to look at each individual case."
Smith tried again - and again. Holder repeatedly resisted, before grudgingly acknowledging the obvious. "I certainly think that it's possible that people who espouse a radical version of Islam have had an ability to have an impact on people like" the accused Times Square bomber, he said.
I cite this strained colloquy because it helps explain the reaction - I'd say overreaction - to New York Republican Peter King's hearings on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response."
The roots of Holder's reticence are admirable: He wanted to avoid tarring an entire faith with the sins of a few extreme adherents. But the unavoidable fact is that, however much violent terror reflects a distortion of the tenets of Islam, it is not only practiced by adherents of the religion but practiced in its name.
To ignore the religious nature of the terrorist threat is to succumb to politically correct delusion. To ignore the homegrown religious nature of the terrorist threat is to succumb even further.
As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified last month before the House Committee on Homeland Security, "One of the most striking elements of today's threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens."
Napolitano wasn't referring to right-wing militias or lone-wolf crazies. She was talking about "terrorist groups inspired by al-Qaeda ideology." And, she pointed out, "This threat of homegrown violent extremism fundamentally changes who is most often in the best position to spot terrorist activity, investigate and respond."
Or consider Holder himself, who told ABC's Pierre Thomas in December that he is kept up at night worrying about homegrown terrorists. "The threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here, to worrying about people in the United States, American citizens - raised here, born here, and who, for whatever reason, have decided that they are going to become radicalized and take up arms against the nation in which they were born," Holder said.
It is hard to imagine a stronger case for the topic of King's hearings before the Homeland Security Committee.
To listen to King's critics, you would think he was urging modern-day internment camps for Muslim Americans. In a letter to King on Monday, more than 50 progressive groups slammed him for "singling out a particular community for examination in what appears to be little more than a political show-trial."
Certainly, the best evidence against King is King. His manner is blustering verging on crude. His language has been loose, crossing the border to offensive, as when he told the Associated Press last month, "There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community, and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening."
In an area that calls for careful choice of words and frequent expressions of respect, King has too often been willing to paint with a broad brush that alienates the very community whose help he seeks.
At the same time, it is a parody of political correctness to argue that a hearing on domestic terrorism cannot focus solely on the Muslim community to be acceptable.
"It's absolutely the right thing to do for the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to investigate radicalization, but to say we're going to investigate a religious minority . . . is the wrong course of action to take," Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told CNN.
Yes, there are other sources of terrorism. Radical Islam is the biggest and most dangerous. And, yes, King is a flawed questioner. But the question he poses is an appropriate - and important - one.