ACLU of Massachusetts Privacy Rights Coordinator Kade Crockford wrote the following guest blog.
Twitter was ablaze today with the #MUAC hashtag. For those of you who don’t use the social media favorite, a hashtag is a way of identifying your Tweet with a thread of commentary related to one subject, so that people can participate in a large, lively conversation on that topic. Thousands of people used this hashtag today as they “live-tweeted” Representative Peter King’s congressional hearings on “Muslim Radicalization”. MUAC stands for “Muslim un-American Activities Committee”, a nod to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearings in the 1950s, hosted by his House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
Contrary to a claim he made during the hearing today, when he went on the record denying ever having said it, Rep. King has said that he thinks there are “too many mosques in this country”. He said he thought the hearings were necessary because Muslim radicals are the only threat to the United States. “It makes no sense to talk about other types of extremism, when the main threat to the United States today is talking about al Qaida” [sic], he said. Yet he and his allies repeated endlessly during the proceedings that the hearings today were “not about Muslims.”
Many of King’s Congressional colleagues on the House Homeland Security Committee beg to differ. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Loretta Sanchez, and Laura Richardson, all women of color, spoke in strong terms denouncing the hearings as discriminatory, and contesting some of the main arguments made by King, his supporters and his chosen witnesses. Representatives Bennie Thompson and Al Green, both men of color, also spoke, and condemned the hearing in no less harsh tones. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Congressional support for or opposition to the hearings fell almost precisely along racial lines. The only white Congressperson to oppose them was Representative John Dingell, who said:
"I believe this hearing has a potential to create a continuation of the fear and hatred that came after 9/11. This hearing must not be permitted to recall the evils of McCarthyism and the divisiveness and ill-will it created amongst our people."
And he would know. At 95 years old, Rep. Dingell is the only living member of Congress to have served during McCarthy’s HUAC hearings.
Representative Laura Richardson echoed Dingell’s sentiment, saying that the only difference between King’s and McCarthy’s hearings is that the latter were televised in black and white, while the former are in color.
The hearings today didn’t address the underlying causes of a recent attempted bombing in Spokane, WA. They didn’t address the recent near-murder of a Congresswoman in Arizona, an incident in which twelve other people were shot, among the dead a Federal Judge and a 9-year old girl. The hearings couldn’t or wouldn’t address these serious crimes of terrorism because they were committed by white, non-Muslims. Instead the hearings addressed vague threats, an atmosphere highly suggestive of the anti-Communist hysteria that permeated McCarthy’s hearings during the Cold War. Another amorphous, domestic “enemy” influenced by foreigners. Another Congressional witch-hunt.
One surprising theme that representatives of the GOP kept bringing up was that the Counsel of American Islamic Relations, CAIR, a Muslim legal advocacy group, was somehow part of a vast conspiracy related to Muslim obstruction of justice. This aspect of the hearing was particularly troubling, and reached its crescendo when Rep. Chip Cravaack said that CAIR was “basically…a terrorist organization.”
The only law enforcement person at the hearings, Sheriff Lee Baca from Los Angeles, said that in fact CAIR and other Muslim organizations have been very helpful in the fight against extremist Muslims. But many Republicans kept at it, hammering CAIR for counseling Muslims to seek legal help when approached by the FBI. This was particularly shocking, because as Representative Loretta Sanchez said, seeking counsel in the face of government interrogation is not only a fundamental right, it is also the smart thing to do.
Many people have already commented on the hearings, and many more will continue to do so for a long time coming. There will be debates about whether these hearings are just, whether they are efficacious, whether they are focused on the right target, whether Congressional hearings should target minority groups at all. These are all important subjects with significant ramifications for our public policy.
But watching the hearings left me with one very profound feeling quite apart from these crucial matters. While it was devastatingly sad to watch Representative Keith Ellison, an elected official, try to convince one of his colleagues of his own humanity and of the humanity of his co-religionists, I didn’t feel completely demoralized by the process before me.
Because unlike during McCarthy’s hearings, today’s House Homeland Security Committee was populated by people of color and women who vocally defended the rights of their fellow citizens, raised important issues about white supremacist terrorism, and marked in the congressional record government opposition to the pointless, politically-driven witch-hunt that occurred in Congress today.
We don’t live in the 1950s anymore, thankfully. Some things might stay the same, but some things have certainly changed. On an otherwise sad day in the history of our nation, I’ll bless America for that.
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