Can political correctness discourage substantive discussions on violent extremism?

The recent Congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims stirred up some strong emotions. Many objected to what they perceived as the unfair scapegoating of American Muslims for acts of violence committed by a few extremists. Some compared the Congressman Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to disgraced Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Others called the hearing a Muslim witch hunt.

On the surface, the premise of the hearing on “the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community’s response” may seem disturbing and politically incorrect. However, the testimonies brought before the House Committee on Homeland Security did shed light on the diversity, the divisions, and the fears among Muslim American on confronting violent extremism. Unfortunately, the preceding media firestorm focused the politics and process of the hearing and effectively drowned out any substantive discussions on violent extremism cultivated in the United States.

PHOTO CREDIT: C-SPAN

After listening to the testimonies, we question whether – in this particular instance – the media, politicians, and activists have used political correctness as a cop-out to avoid an open, honest, constructive discussion on the challenges that a specific community faces in confronting radicalization and violent extremism? Do we muzzle ourselves for fear of being perceived and labeled as a “bigot,” “racist,” or “Islamophobe?” Does our aversion to publicly discuss sensitive issues allow misunderstanding and resentment to fester? Could the silence resulting from our “political fear” of offending a religious community enable radicalization to take root?

We invite you to review the testimonies (with highlights provided below) and decide for yourself.

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is a devout Sunni Muslim and a former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Before he founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy after 9/11, Dr. Jasser had served as a staff physician for the United States Congress. He is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal. Dr. Jasser’s testimony highlighted the following points:

  • The paralysis in addressing religious radicalization is caused by the polarization of viewpoints about Muslims. “One camp on that polarization refuses to believe that any Muslim could be radicalized…On the other side of the polarity is those that feel that Islam is the problem. They want to label Muslims as one all collective and really are seeking no solutions.”
  • Radicalization is a continuum. The violence is usually the final phase or manifestation of that radicalization. “We’re so much soaking up the bandwidth of the discussion in the country on this with victimization that we’re not addressing the core problem and the root cause.”
  • “…When we look at the problem with radicalization, we have to realize that the panoply of excuses given – our foreign policy, our domestic policy, all this kind of stuff – those will never run out. At the end of the day, it’s a moral corruption within a certain segment that is using our religion – hijacking it for a theo-political movement that is not only domestic but it is global.”
  • There is a need to change our response from defense to offense, from simply reacting to proactively addressing the root cause of the radicalization. “Until we have an ideological offense into the Muslim communities domestically and globally – to teach liberty, to teach the separation of mosque and state – you are not going to solve this problem; we are not going to solve it… we need to build public-private partnerships to build platforms where you can advocate for the laws of the Constitution that are universal human rights, that are based in the equality of men and women, the equality of all faiths before law.”

You can read Dr. Jasser’s full testimony by clicking here.

Mr. Melvin Bledsoe, father of Carlos Leon Bledsoe (aka) Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad. Carlos Bledsoe admitted in a letter to a federal judge that he shot two soldiers outside an Arkansas Army recruiting station in 2009. Pvt. William Long was killed and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula was seriously wounded.”This was a jihad. Attack on infidel forces,” Carlos Bledsoe wrote. “I wasn’t insane or post-traumatic nor was I forced to do this act which I believe and it is justified according to Islamic laws and the Islamic religion.”

Mr. Bledsoe described how his son’s behavior changed after joining a mosque and converting to Islam in Nashville, Tenn., where Carlos had attended college. Eventually Carlos dropped out of Tennessee State University and moved to Yemen in an attempt to join a terrorist training camp.

  • “In Nashville, Carlos was captured by people best described as hunters. He was manipulated and lied to. That’s how he made his way to Yemen…Carlos’s joining in with Yemeni extremists was facilitated by their American counterparts in Nashville. We have since discovered that the former Imam of a Nashville mosque, the Al Farooq Mosque, wrote the recommendation letter Carlos needed for the school in Yemen. We also discovered that the school functions as an intake front for radicalizing and training Westerners for Jihad.”
  • “Something is wrong with the Muslim leadership in Nashville. What happened to Carlos at those Nashville mosques isn’t normal. I have other family members who are Muslims, and they are modern, peaceful, law abiding people, who have been Muslim for many years and are not radicalized.”
  • “It seems that me that the American people are sitting around and doing nothing about Islamic extremism, as if Carlos’s story and the other stories told at these hearings aren’t true. There is a big elephant in the room, but our society continues not to see it. This wrong is caused by political correctness. You can even call it political fear – yes, fear. Fear of stepping on a special minority population’s toes, even as a segment of that population wants to stamp out America and everything we stand for.”

You can read Mr. Bledsoe’s full testimony by clicking here.

Mr. Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, MN. His teenage nephew, Burhan Hassan, was a Somali-American Muslim who was recruited to join the jihad in Somalia. More than a dozen other Somali American youths from Minneapolis remain missing and are presumed to be in Somalia. Hassan was reportedly killed in Mogadishu in June 2009. He was 17.

In his testimony, Mr. Bihi described how his family was intimidated by the local mosque leadership for speaking out about his nephew’s disappearance.

  • “The community has contributed millions of dollars from their meager resources to enlarge and expand the Abubakr [As-Saddique] center so it could do more youth services…We in the Somali-American Muslim community hold mosque Imams and leaders in high regard, and trust them blindly with everything, including our children, since they are the leaders of our faith – a faith of peace, a faith that stands for submission to God. We the families in the Somali American community sought a refuge for our children in the Abubakr center from the bad influences that lead to bad choices on the streets of our neighborhoods. We never thought we could be hurt by the very institution that we trusted with our children. When we realized that our children were recruited and lured away from us into the burning country that we had fled from while they were in their infancy, we would never have thought that possibly to have existed.”
  • “The mosque leadership was always in the mode of “double-speak,” claiming to the larger community in English that they were victims of our efforts to find our “fake” missing children…On the other hand, in Somali language, the mosque leaders (led by the imam) would threaten and intimidate us, calling us all sorts of names during Friday’s sermons just because we had spoken publicly about the missing Somali kids and had refused to remain quiet.”
  • “Looking back, my sister and I realized (along with other mothers) that these young men had been behaving very strangely within the last three or four months before they went missing, spending most of their time at the mosque, even sleeping overnight and during the weekends there…We would never have guessed that our kids had been brainwashed already and recruited to fight for al-Shabaab in a jihadist war which was killing other innocent Muslim Somalis thousands of miles away.”
  • “…99.9% of Muslim Somali Americans are good citizens who are very grateful for the opportunities they have and are very busy in chasing their American dream. It is also important to mention the fact that they abhor al-Shabaab and terrorism as much as any other American does. However, the challenge is that the community is lacking strong and true leaders that translate the real voices of the average members of the community…We regret the silencing and intimidation faced by leaders and activists who dare to speak out on the real challenges that keep our youth and community vulnerable to radicalization. Burying our heads in the sand will not make this problem go away.”

You can read Mr. Bihi’s full testimony by clicking here.

A full transcript of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s testimony can be found by clicking here.

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