Rep. Keith Ellison's testimony

  • Updated: March 10, 2011 - 10:23 AM

Ellison's testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, as prepared for delivery.

Thank you Chairman King for allowing me to testify today.  Though the Chairman and I sometimes disagree, including on the premise of this hearing, I appreciate his willingness to engage in this dialogue.  I also thank Ranking Member Bennie Thompson for his commitment to homeland security and civil rights for all.  It’s a challenge to protect both security and liberty, but Congressman Thompson strikes the right balance.

I would like to introduce Talat Hamdani, who is with us today.  She is the brave mother of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a first responder who died trying to rescue fellow Americans on 9/11.

I will make three points today.  First, violent extremism is a serious concern to all Americans, and is the legitimate business of this Committee.  Second, this Committee’s approach to violent extremism is contrary to American values, and threatens our security.  Finally, we need increased understanding and engagement with Muslim American communities to keep America safe.

I want to elaborate on the first point.

Understanding the roots of domestic terrorism is the legitimate business of the House Homeland Security Committee.  I share the Chairman’s concerns about violent extremism.  I voted for The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 authored by Representative Jane Harman.  This bill is a common sense approach to studying violent extremism in the United States.  I plan to introduce a companion bill in the future.

I recently made a presentation, sponsored by the Center for American Progress, called “Strengthening America’s Security: Identifying, Preventing and Responding to Domestic Terrorism.”  My presentation addressed causes of violent extremism and solutions for prevention and intervention. 

The safety of our families and communities is at stake in our discussion today.  We should apply the utmost intellectual rigor to this issue—which leads to my second point.  We need to conduct a thorough, fair analysis and do no harm.  The approach of today’s hearing, unfortunately, does not meet these standards. 

Today’s hearing is entitled, “The extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s response.”

It is true that specific individuals, including some who are Muslims, are violent extremists.  However, these are individuals – but not entire communities.  Individuals like Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Faisel Shazad, and Nidal Hasan do not represent the Muslim American community. When their violent actions are associated with an entire community, then blame is assigned to a whole group.  This is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating, which is counter-productive. 

This point is at the heart of my testimony today.  Ascribing the evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community is wrong; it is ineffective; and it risks making our country less secure.

Solutions to the scourge of domestic terrorism often emerge from individuals within the Muslim community—a point I address later in my testimony.  However, demanding a “community response” (as the title of this hearing suggests) asserts that the entire community bears responsibility for the violent acts of individuals.  Targeting the Muslim American community for the actions of a few is unjust. Actually all of us—all communities—are responsible for combating violent extremism.  Singling out one community focuses our analysis in the wrong direction. 

Throughout human history, individuals from all communities and faiths have used religion and political ideology to justify violence.   Let’s think about the KKK, America’s oldest terrorist organization; the Oklahoma City bombing; the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by James von Brunn; and bombings at Planned Parenthood clinics.  Did Congress focus on the ethnic group and religion of these agents of violence as a matter of public policy?  The answer is no. 

Stoking fears about entire groups for a political agenda is also not new in American history.   During World War II the US government interned Japanese Americans and spied on German Americans.  During John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, his opponents portrayed a dire future for an America with a Catholic president.  We now view these events of our past as a breach of our treasured American values. 

Let’s talk about facts rather than stereotypes.  In fact, the Muslim American community rejects violent ideology.  The RAND Corporation, a highly respected research organization, released a report last year that states the following: given the low rate of would-be violent extremists [only 100 amongst an estimated 3 million American Muslims “…suggest[s] an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence.”

The RAND report concludes that a mistrust of Muslim Americans by other Americans is misplaced.
The Muslim American community across this country actively works with law enforcement officials—from dialogues with Attorney General Eric Holder to community meetings with local police officers in Minneapolis.  Recently, tips from the Muslim American community foiled two domestic terror plots including the case of the Times Square Bomber and the Northern Virginia Five.  Law enforcement officials depend upon these relationships.

A recent report from the Muslim Public Affairs Council stated that information provided by Muslim Americans has helped foil seven of the last 11 domestic terror plots and 40 percent of all plots since 9/11.  A 2011 study from the Duke University Triangle Center on Terrorism reiterated that 40 percent of domestic terror plots have been prevented with the aid of the Muslim American community.

This cooperation with law enforcement is rooted in relationships and trust—relationships that we should nurture.  A witness at today’s hearing, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee last year:

To effectively detect and manage extremists, police need to have the trust and understanding of the Muslim communities who live within and outside the United States…  Simply, police need public participation.

Sheriff Baca recently commented on important cooperation between his office and the Muslim American community. He stated:

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