Irfan Yusuf: Witch-hunt has no place in civilised democracy

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Republican Congressman Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has begun hearings on the threat of home-grown extremism. On the surface, it makes perfect sense for the United States Congress to consider this serious threat at this time.

It's true the US faces serious domestic threats. Thanks to reckless banking and financial practices and an almost complete lack of regulation in the financial sector, the US has been plunged into a long recession. Millions have lost both their jobs and homes.

Political sanity is fast being swept away by a tsunami of extremes from the Tea Party.

In such a pressure cooker of a political and economic environment, it's little wonder that politically motivated violence, both by lone actors and fringe groups, is on the rise.

In January, a lone gunman opened fire on Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a busy Arizona shopping mall. Giffords survived, but among the dead were a US District judge and a toddler.

The killer, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, appeared to be acting alone, though there is evidence he was inspired by extreme Tea Party rhetoric which the New York Times described as reinforcing "the dominant imagery of the moment - a portrayal of 21st-century Washington as being like 18th century Lexington and Concord, an occupied country on the verge of armed rebellion".

Lone actors have also been responsible for attacks inspired by extreme forms of political Islam. According to Peter Bergen, director of the national security studies programme at the New America Foundation, a total of 17 Americans have been killed by what he describes as "jihadist terrorists" since the September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks.

Meanwhile, John Tirman of the MIT Centre for International Studies, writes in the Boston Globe: "The START database on terrorism in America, which tracks all incidents of political violence, shows that most attacks in the last two decades have been on black churches, reproductive rights facilities, Government offices, and individual minorities. And those have been committed mainly by right-wing extremists.

"From 1990 to 2009, START identified 275 'homicide events' that killed 520 people and were committed by right-wing ideologues. There were many more incidents of destruction of property, nonfatal attacks, and other acts of thuggery by white supremacists, private militias, and the like."

The scale of the problem makes Congressman King's hearings necessary. The problem is that King chooses to focus on a small minority of radicals that he sees are reflective of a religious tradition he openly despises. This is evident from the hearings' clumsy title - "Extent of Radicalisation in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response".

His intentions are even more questionable when one considers he has gone on the record saying that America has too many mosques, and that 85 per cent of Muslim mosques and leaders are radicalised.

He provides no source for this statistic.

Then there is King's own past in supporting and financing IRA terror. Had he been a British MP seeking to hold such hearings in the House of Commons, King would have been dismissed as a fringe lunatic after having spent years defending the IRA as "freedom fighters".

Furthermore, he raised money for the group responsible for deaths of ordinary Britons, soldiers and even Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India. In this sense, King has much in common with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

King defends his support for the IRA, saying it hasn't killed any Americans. Other IRA victims don't matter to Mr King.

Such sick patriotism has become the first refuge of a terror-sympathising lawmaker.

But apart from all this, there is the issue of holding entire congregations responsible for the violent acts of a few. Irish-American columnist Patrick Roberts asks this question on IrishCentral.com: "Here's a novel suggestion. Why not have Muslim congressman Keith Ellison investigate the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals?"

There have been 12,000 cases of clerical sexual abuse in the US. Surely the victims and their families must feel terrorised.

It will be a tragedy for America and the civilised world should a day come when we see two Muslim or numerous Jewish or Protestant Congressmen calling for, let alone leading, hearings on "Extent of Child Abuse in the American Catholic Community and That Community's Response".

The politics of witch-hunting and demonisation simply does not belong in a civilised democracy.

- NZ Herald

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