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Daily News: Rep. Pete King must keep probe of violent Islamic fundamentalism focused on facts, nothing but facts

Daily News
March 9, 2011

The clamor against Rep. Pete King's congressional probe of violent Islamic extremism grows as the moment approaches when he calls his first witness tomorrow.
Cries of McCarthyism and anti-Muslim bias are overwrought and unfair. King has chosen a perfectly worthy topic for a hearing.

The benefit or risk of the exercise depends on what happens once the gavel falls. If King, fellow lawmakers and gathered experts stick to the facts, they will do the country a service. If they traffic in innuendo and distortions, damage will be done.

On this score, there is cause for concern. In the past, the Long Island Republican has, among other sloppy statements, repeated the unsubstantiated claim that "80 to 85% of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists." He must choose his words far more carefully.

But let no one question the gravity of the threat or the importance of scrutiny. Radicalized Americans have done great harm – and aim to do more.

Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, born Carlos Bledsoe, attacked an Army recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., killing one soldier and wounding a second.

Najibullah Zazi, an immigrant from Afghanistan, led what seemed like a normal American life until he traveled to Pakistan in 2008 for explosives training and was arrested for plotting to set off bombs in the city subways. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad targeted hundreds with a car bomb. Four Newburgh men sought to bomb Bronx synagogues, and dozens of other would-be jihadists took aim at airliners, office buildings and other places where fellow Americans gathered.

The fact that other crimes are motivated by different forms of extremism, as opponents of King's hearings have pointed out, is irrelevant.

Less than 10 years after 9/11, it is this threat that remains clearest and most present.

That's why Attorney General Eric Holder, no alarmist, last year said: "The threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here, to worrying about people in the United States, American citizens."

It's why Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, no alarmist, last month told Congress, "Over the past two years, we have seen the rise of a number of terrorist groups inspired by Al Qaeda ideology … that are placing a growing emphasis on recruiting individuals who are either Westerners or have connections to the West."

Yes, in some cases the broader Muslim community has helped expose and arrest plots. But at other times, cooperation has been lagging.

Indeed, in these pages four years ago, a local imam, Shamsi Ali, was so concerned, he called on his fellow Muslim clergy to root out radicals – writing that "there are local preachers who distort our faith to foment hatred of America. There are people who, rather than encouraging young people to build better lives for themselves, irresponsibly egg them on toward an angry and narrow view of the future. I see this danger every day."

King must keep his inquiry to the facts. If he does, the hearings will contribute to the country's understanding of a grave threat. We live in hope.