Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Man Who Would Be King

By William Fisher

If you’re dreaming that American Muslims might benefit even a tad from the images flowing out of the Middle East of young people putting their lives on the line to establish self-rule – dream on.

The American people, if they’re paying any attention at all to the wider significance of the shockingly unexpected campaign for democracy, just aren’t getting it. The TV says Muslim; people think “terrorist.” The TV says Arab; people think “terrorist.”

Average Americans usually aren’t exactly breathless about news coming out of the Middle East, unless it’s about Iraq, which is in the Middle East, or Afghanistan, which isn’t. Chances are that most of us couldn’t find Egypt or Tunisia or Libya on a map, to say nothing of the location of Yemen and Bahrain and Oman and Algeria.

So the silver-tongued Republican Congressman from New York – his name is Peter King – needn’t worry that his efforts to launch McCarthyism 2.0 next week are going to be impeded.

On Wednesday, Rep. King’s House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."

The New York Republican believes this is a serious problem. He says he has heard an increasing number of stories from federal law enforcement officials that U.S. Islamic leaders have not cooperated with police or are fomenting radical actions by young Muslims.

"There's a systematic effort to radicalize young Muslim men," King told the Los Angeles Times. "It would be irresponsible of me not to have this investigation. If it was coming from some other demographic group, I would say the same thing," he said.

Sure he would. But American Muslims – and lots and lots of non-Muslims – have two main problems with King’s vendetta.

Problem One is that King has a long and undistinguished record as an Islamophobe and a bigot. Nothing approaching “fair and balanced” is likely to rain on Mr. King’s debut in Kabuki Theater.

Problem Two is that only one witness has been announced, and he is cut from the same cloth as Mr. King. King has reportedly been attempting to recruit other witnesses, but has not announced any thus far.

Let’s start with King the Islamophobe. Here are some of his pithier statements:

For example, he cited a recent Pew poll he said showed that 15% of young American Muslims believed suicide bombing was justified.

He has said, "I also know of imams instructing members of their mosques not to cooperate with law enforcement investigating the recruiting of young men in their mosques as suicide bombers. We need to find the reasons for this alienation."

In 2004 King said on the Sean Hannity program, “…you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists…Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don’t work, they don’t come forward, they don’t tell the police.”

King has said there are “too many mosques” in the U.S.”

He has characterized American Muslim leaders as “an enemy living amongst us” [which does not] cooperate in the war on terror”.

In a 2004 non sequitur, King said: “The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100% of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today.”

Two years later, King sent two letters to several thousand, mainly Jewish, constituents in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. The letters condemned American Muslim leaders, including those at the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI), for “failing to unequivocally denounce Islamic terrorism.”

Leaders of the ICLI, a Westbury-based mosque founded in 1985, supported King’s Democratic opponent in the last election, Nassau County Legislator David Mejias.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in 2009 warning of the rising threat of right-wing extremism, King told TV host Joe Scarborough that, instead of discussing the threat of anti-government radicals, DHS should focus on the threat emanating from “Muslims” and “mosques” at home.

He said ”[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano has never put out a report talking about ‘look out for mosques. Look out for Islamic terrorists in our country. Look out for the fact that very few Muslims come forward to cooperate with the police.’ If they sent out a report saying that, there would be hell to pay,” King said.

“The (DHS) was set up primarily to protect us from another terrorist attack from Islamic terrorists, and yet they talk about everything but that,” he said.

In an opinion column in Newsday, King wrote, “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or -- in most cases -- no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”

"There are too many mosques in this country," King told Politico in 2007. "There are too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them."

Now let’s look at the one witness whose name has been announced.

He is M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D. He is a military veteran, a Muslim, and the President and Founder of something called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).

Dr. Jasser says he founded AIFD in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, and the separation of mosque and state.

He says he is leading the fight to shake the hold that the Muslim Brotherhood and their Network of American Islamist organizations and mosques have on organized Islam in America.

His official bio says Dr. Jasser “is a nationally recognized expert in the contest of ideas against Political Islam and American Islamist organizations.”

But knowledgeable Islamic scholars and national security experts have other views. That’s what prompted the New York Times to write, “Jasser Lacks Credentials To Speak On The Hearings' Topic.” The Times also said he "Has Little Following Among Muslims," [and] Portrays American Muslim Leaders As "Radical Islamists."

And The Washington Post reported, “Jasser's Resume "Lacks Any Community Leadership Roles, Any Policy Or Academic Expertise."

So it is small wonder that U.S. Islamic leaders are preparing themselves for a reconstitution of HUAC or a tutorial on McCarthyism 2.0. They are anticipating nothing less than a McCarthy-style witch-hunt because of the over-heated rhetoric King has consistently used to attack the Muslim community in the U.S. They say he is “unfairly tarring the Muslim community, which they said had helped U.S. law enforcement break up terrorist plots.”

Not long ago, The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) conducted a study entitled “Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database.” MPAC reported that:

· Since 9/11, only 44% of suspects publicly associated with terrorism were prosecuted under a terrorism or national security statute.

· There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.

· There have been least 5 incidents of non-Muslim violent extremists possessing or attempting to possess Biological, Chemical or Radiological weapons. One of those incidents occurred since Obama’s election. No such cases involving Muslim violent extremists have been reported since 9/11.

· Evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies. Using Obama’s election as its measurement, since November 4, 2008 there have been 45 plots by domestic non-Muslim violent extremists. By comparison, there have been 22 plots by Muslim U.S. and foreign-originated extremists. Each of these categories constitutes about 50% or more of all violent extremist cases in each dataset since 9/11.

· Yet, there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among Muslim Americans. We use Obama’s election as the start of a timeline for measurement. We found 15 out of the 20 post-election plots (75%) involved Muslim Americans engaging in ideological extremism before the vote. Of these 20, 11 (55%) were engaged in ideological extremism since at least 2007. Only 2 out of 20 cases (10%) are individuals involved in extremist activities after Obama’s election. 3 cases (15%) remain unknown.

· Al-Qaeda does not appear to be making new ideological gains into the Muslim American community. Instead, the data is pointing toward greater numbers of longstanding ideological extremists turning to violence.

· Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent over 4 out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009. This is an important counter-trend to the recent spike of arrests. It also highlights the importance of partnering with society through good relations and community oriented policing.

In a recent op-ed, "Partnership Not Profiling," published in The Hill newspaper, Alejandro Beutel – author of the database study -- takes issue with some of King's statements.

MPAC’s Government Affairs Liaison notes that King has asserted, “people who are in mainstream Islam, leaders of mosques, leaders of Muslim organizations do not come forward and denounce” terrorism.

Beutel writes, "This is one of the most dangerous lies perpetuated about Muslim Americans. Muslim social and religious leaders have been at the forefront of challenging extremist justifications for violence. A recent Congressional Research service report, entitled 'American Jihadist Terrorism', highlighted the important counter-extremism work of Muslim American groups. This is nothing to say of the hundreds of Muslim religious leaders around the world who consistently and vocally stand against violence, and who consistently fail to garner any significant mainstream media attention."

In fact, he says, “Repeated fatwas (religious declarations) against extremism have become so damaging to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates that in one edition of Inspire, their online magazine, Anwar Al-Awlaki felt compelled to write a defensive seven-page article responding the debunking of Al-Qaeda’s purported justifications for violence.”

Beutel adds, "Thankfully, many on Capitol Hill are refusing to engage in this opportunistic religion-baiting. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, recently noted, 'Devoting all of our assets to investigate only the Muslim community… will weaken counterterrorism cooperation by ignoring the long history of Muslim cooperation…poisoning this relationship'.”

I’d be willing to bet that no facts like these see the light of day in the House hearing room on Wednesday.

Still, maybe we should be trying to understand more about how people – not just Muslims – become radicalized and carry out acts of violence and destruction. But that, sadly, is not what Pete King has in mind. What Pete King has in mind are headlines. And a leg up in the highly competitive fund-raising adventures of a congressperson.

Bottom Line: On Wednesday, turn on C-Span but don’t expect to learn anything. Turn on C-Span because times are tough and we all need a laugh now and then.

Even Great Journalism Leaves Questions!

By William Fisher

A lot of the news coming out of Egypt these days is truly professional journalism at its best. And because it is at its best, it is also heart-breaking and maddening.

But regardless of how excellent some of the reporting has undoubtedly been, readers are left with nagging questions that just won’t go away. And maybe that’s as it should be, because it draws us in for more answers.

Last week, two of the best journalists covering the Egypt story filed spine-chilling accounts of former political prisoners and their relatives rampaging through the Ministry of Interior – which ran the security police and made the life and death decisions about torture – looking for the files of their loved ones. Some of those loved ones has been secretary executed. Some had been tortured until they died. Many had been “disappeared” and would probably never be heard from or about again.

Those journalists are Hannah Allam of McClatchy Newspapers and Andrea Bruce of The New York Times.

Here’s how Hannah Allam begins her piece, which is datelined Cairo:

“Trudging through dungeon-like cells and mounds of shredded documents, hundreds of Egyptians on Saturday surged into the Cairo headquarters of the dreaded State Security apparatus for an unprecedented look inside buildings where political prisoners endured horrific torture.”

“Some former prisoners sobbed as they saw their old cells, recalling electric
shocks and severe beatings. Families held passport photos of missing relatives and were desperate to explore the dank chambers for clues to their fates.”

How could you not read on?

Allam continued: “Dismantling State Security, the shadowy and all-powerful intelligence force, was a key demand of protesters who forced the resignation last month of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. When the military-led interim authority failed to dissolve the agency immediately, protesters in Cairo and the port city of Alexandria descended on State Security offices this weekend to seize files they hoped would cement Mubarak's legacy of prisoner abuse and disappearances.

"I thought my brother would be found there," said Leila Mahmoud, 47, who was distraught when she learned the buildings had been evacuated. "He was taken on April 2, 2005, and we've been looking for him since then. We haven't heard a word from him since. Not a word."

“Security forces and the police routinely torture or ill-treat detainees, particularly during interrogation. In most cases, officials torture detainees to obtain information and coerce confessions, occasionally leading to death in custody."

“For those who jailed at the complex, the memories are haunting,” she says.
"I saw people's nails being ripped out and people hung from the ceiling by their arms or legs," said Adel Reda, 39, trembling as he recounted his nine months inside the complex. "They would throw our food in sand before giving it to us and splash us with cold water day and night. Sometimes it was so dark you couldn't see your hands."

When asked whether he was ever allowed access to an attorney, Reda raised his hands heavenward and replied: "My lawyer was God."

Allam’s piece goes on recounting citizen after citizen telling their stories of loved ones snatched from the beds or their offices or their cars, whisked to this torture factory, in all likelihood disappeared as if they had never lived.

I found the last three paragraphs of Allam’s piece particularly poignant.

“"My brother was detained because he was trying to send food and medicine to Gaza," said Ingy Qutb, 25. "They kept him three months and tortured him and..."

“Her voice broke and tears spilled onto her black veil. "This place must be destroyed," she said softly.

“Egypt’s once-powerful and feared interior minister, Habib el-Adly, pleaded not guilty Saturday to corruption charges in the first of an expected series of speedy, high-profile cases against ministers ousted with former President Hosni Mubarak.”

The New York Times’s Andrea Bruce toggled between the torture factory at the Ministry of the Interior and the trial of Habib al-Adly, Egypt's former interior minister, who appeared in court in New Cairo amid protestors chanting slogans denouncing him.

Bruce wrote, “That did not happen,” Mr. Adly calmly said twice when the judge asked whether he had profited illegally from his office and laundered money; the charges involve a total of about $1.6 million.”

“Dressed in a white prison uniform with a white cap on his head, Mr. Adly stood in the heavy metal cage that serves as the docket in Egyptian courts. It was an extraordinary sight in a country where Mr. Adly, until his Feb. 17 arrest, had controlled all police forces since he became interior minister in 1997.”

“As if to underscore the change, hundreds of protesters in Cairo stormed a
headquarters of the state security police, a hated organization that Mr. Adly
used to run. Protesters also took over or massed outside other security
compounds around the country, with one center in Alexandria going up in flames Friday night,” she wrote.

“At the courthouse, the proceedings were dominated by a group of often unruly lawyers, who had tacked public interest lawsuits onto the government’s case, seeking huge compensation for Interior Ministry victims.”

“This was Egypt’s executioner!” yelled Hussein Abou Eissa, a lawyer, at Judge Al-Mohammadi Qunsua, before hurling similar invective at the accused. The judge, known in Egypt for his independence, barked at the lawyers to remain orderly and quickly postponed the case until April 2.

The charges read by the prosecutor revolve around a piece of land the ministry controlled that it said Mr. Adly had sold to a private contractor working for the ministry, plus money found in his bank account that the government said did not belong there. Defense lawyers asked for more time to study the documents.”

She observed, “Few details seem too small to escape all manner of fly-on-the wall reports. One former minister ordered food delivered from home rather than eat prison swill, newspapers said. At one point, when Mr. Adly opened the tap in his cell and no water came out, a guard said it would start flowing “right now,” although it was still not working an hour later, the semiofficial newspaper Al Akhbar reported.”

“The word ‘now’ used to mean that things would happen within five minutes at the Interior Ministry,” the newspaper reported Mr. Adly yelling at his guards.”

“That’s over now,” one guard retorted and Andrea Bruce faithfully recorded.

Reading the entire stories filed by these two pros, one almost had the feeling of beginning to understand what was happening at ground level those thousands of miles away.

Yet, these stories left a great black hole. It was: Just who were these incredibly cruel, sadistic, bloodthirsty young men who were doing the torturing and the killing? Were they incredibly cruel, sadistic, bloodthirsty young men when they were hired? Or did they “grow into it,” as they say? If so, how and under whose tutelage?

Most important of all to understand: Were these people just “bad seeds?” Or were they conditioned by their lack of education, their poverty, their absense of opportunity, to be sociopaths? Or was it some other combination of factors?

We learned nothing about who they are. And it seems to me that information is essential if Egypt wants to avoid hiring the same types of jailers next time around.

Those of us who have lived and worked in Egypt accept that many Egyptians have two faces.

There is the face shown to the public, especially the expat or foreign tourist public. This is the face of charm, of impeccable manners, of open-handed hospitality, even among poor Egyptians, who are usually happy to share their food with you although they don’t have enough to feed themselves, and who are honored that you are visiting their home.

I have gone to the University of Cairo to talk to young undergrads about life in America, warts and all. There were, I was told later, half a dozen jihadis in the group. I was astonished when I learned that the young man who invited me to his home to continue the discussion over dinner was one of the hottest firebrand jihadis! He had some of his facts wrong, and I had a few, but we had a spirited and constructive conversation nevertheless. And I had the feeling we were talking to one another, not past one another.

Then, I’m told, there is the dark side. In my mind, the dark side consists of the dead-enders (HT Mr. Rumsfeld) who can not find employment other than employment that involves maiming and killing people, and getting off on the unspeakable sounds of unspeakable pain. As the attributes of these people were explained to me, the words took on an affinity with the vocabulary used to describe the really dangerous American street gangs. In other words, criminals in training.

Were these the people the Ministry of Interior was recruiting? If that’s the case, the Egyptian people need to know more about who they are and how they were motivated –so that Egypt never goes down that road again!