Islamic radicalization hearings may motivate GOP base

The House Homeland Security hearings on Islamic radicalism that began today have garnered widespread attention, chiefly for the controversies they've raised even before they started. Protests against the hearing have helped position King and his supporters as terrorism hawks fighting against liberals soft on terror.

King alluded to this "us versus them" battle in his opening remarks at Thursday's hearing:

King has argued that radical American Muslims are responsible for most of the terrorist attempts and attacks in the United States. since Sept. 11--and that U.S. Muslim leaders aren't doing enough to weed out radicalization within the Islamic community.

But critics argue that the hearings demonize all Muslims and will foster more discrimination against Muslim Americans. A coalition of 50 progressive groups this week described the hearings as "little more than a political show trial" in a letter to King objecting to the hearings.

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that Americans were mostly split on whether Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence--40 percent agree and 42 percent disagree. By about 3-to-1, 66 percent of conservative Republicans believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions as opposed to 21 percent do not, according to the poll. Among a pool only of those who "agree with the tea party," 67 percent agree that Islam encourages more violence than other religions.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is an up-and-coming GOP lawmaker firmly aligned with both the tea party and King's view of the threat posed by militant Islam. West has long railed against Islam and made many inflammatory statements about the religion.

There are many examples of strong anti-Muslim sentiment on the right. Last summer, for instance, conservative activists sought to block a proposed Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan on the grounds that it would serve to inflame the by virtue of its proximity to the former World Trade Center site. Conservative leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin weighed in against the project. That furor was part of a general wave of anti-mosque protests on the right, according to Muslim-American activists. A rally last month, attended by two members of Congress and several tea party groups, drew nationwide scrutiny for its anti-Muslim fervor.

But King says the purpose of his hearing is not to feed anti-Muslim sentiment. Rather, he insists that the panel will focus on terrorism and the threat of terrorism from within the Muslim community. And GOP leaders on Capitol Hill echo that view.
Again, that's a fairly well accepted notion at this point and that's where Chairman King has gone."

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