Keith Ellison: Sure, Have Hearings On Radicalization — Just Don’t Target Muslims

December 23, 2010 3:49 a.m.

The U.S. House’s first Muslim congressman is totally fine with Rep. Peter King’s planned hearings on radicalization — as long as they doesn’t focus on Muslims alone.

“It is legitimate to want to know what converts a [peaceful] citizen to somebody who would want to kill their fellow Americans,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) told TPM in a phone interview Wednesday. “I think that’s a fair question, and I don’t think we know enough about it.”Earlier this week, King (R-NY), the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, announced plans to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims. King isn’t known as a moderate when it comes to Islamic relations — to put it delicately — and the announcement was met with condemnation and concern.

But Ellison said the hearings could be productive and teach lawmakers more about violent extremism — as long as they look at such extremism as a whole instead of focusing on Muslims.

“Because we don’t know anything about what makes someone a violent radical, we stop everyone in a hijab, everyone in a kufi, everyone in ‘Muslim garb,'” he said.

But what makes anyone turn radical? He used Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber and a Muslim American, as an example.

“If he was upset about U.S. policy in Pakistan and Somalia, why wouldn’t he get involved in a civil rights organization and do something about it? Why wouldn’t he join the Peace Corps, do something constructive? What made him turn into this dangerously violent person?” Ellison asked. “Is there a string? Is there a line? Is there a point of commonality?”

If the hearings can answer those questions, he said, they could help built a more “effective law enforcement.”

“Just a bash session about ‘Muslims are the problem’ is not helpful,” he added.

Ellison said he plans to try to keep the hearings balanced by suggesting witnesses, attending the hearings and, if he can, testifying himself.

“I’m going to participate, and I’m going to encourage other people to participate,” he said. He’s already shared his concerns with King who, he said, seemed receptive and open to suggestions.

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