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Anecdotes in Awful Action

Representative Peter King must read On Violence.

As soon as we posted, “Lies, Damned Lies and Anecdotes”, Rep. King went ahead and held a house committee hearing called, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response: Using Primarily Anecdotes for Evidence”. Okay, I made the last part up, but that might as well have been the title.

Before I highlight the more egregious examples, I want to make the same caveat as I did for the gun debate: this isn’t about the issue of the hearings; we’re discussing the rhetoric used at the hearings. Both sides use anecdotes to prove their points, not statistics or evidence.

Without further ado, the four worst anecdotes from the hearing:

1. Representative King’s list of domestic terrorists. Rep. King started the hearing by listing Muslim Americans who have been radicalized. This list includes: New York City Subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, Fort Hood Terrorist U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, Colleen LaRose, known as “Jihad Jane”, Times Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad and Mumbai Plotter David Headley. So five individuals out of a community of three million, what percentage is that?

Even better, Rep. King let’s us know what his witnesses will show, “Their courage and spirit will put a human face on the horror which Islamist radicalization has inflicted and will continue to inflict on good families, especially those in the Muslim community, unless we put aside political correctness and define who our enemy truly is.” Although, he never goes on to define who “the enemy truly is”, unless it is young Muslim men.

2. Representative Ellison responds with Mohammed Salman Hamdani. To rebut, the Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security called Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s Fifth District. His testimony centered around the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a first responder who died on 9/11 in the World Trade Center. I don’t for a minute doubt his heroism or his courage.

I do wonder, though, what it this to do with the radicalization hearing. I mean, if we can find more examples of good Muslim-Americans, and I have no doubt that we can, does that mean radicalization is no longer an issue?

3. Radicalized Somali youths. The third worst anecdote came from Abdirizak Bihi, Uncle of Burhan Hassan a radicalized Somali-American who went to Somalia and died fighting for Al Shabaab. Despite this fact, Mr. Bihi claims that the vast majority of Muslim-Americans decry extremism. So what exactly does he prove, especially since he doesn’t even estimate how many Somali-American youths have traveled to Somalia to fight for Al Shabaab.

4. A radicalized youth in Nashville. The final anecdote came from Melvin Bledsoe, whose son Carlos Leon Bledsoe (aka) Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, shot a U.S. recruit at an Army recruiting station. He went to Yemen to join a terrorist training camp. Again, this testimony doesn’t come close to detailing the scope of the problem, how many youths are radicalized in America every year?

Some statistics did sneak their way in though.

Representative King cited a Pew Poll that 15% of young Muslim-Americans support suicide bombing. He also said that the Department of Justice hasn’t investigated a single terrorism incident related to neo-Nazis, environmental extremism or any other fringe American group. (But, according to Rueters on the same day, "Five Fairbanks-area residents involved in a loose-knit militia group have been arrested in connection with a plot to kidnap or kill Alaska state troopers and a local judge, federal and state authorities said on Friday." More here.)

Representative Ellison rebutted with statistics from the RAND corporation. He said that “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.” Representative Ellison also pointed out the dramatic rise in extremist groups labeled as such by the Department of Justice.

Unfortunately, the statistics and facts of this debate went largely unheard. Coverage by major news organizations from the left, right and middle focused on the anecdotes by the witnesses. Multiple news articles reporting on Representative Ellison’s testimony mentioned Hamdani (here and here, for example), none mentioned the facts about extremism.

And the only number of note that occurs again and again is that 99.999% of all Muslim Americans love America, support law enforcement and decry violence.

eleven comments

I think Rep. king’s statement about there not being domestic terrorism from other groups is ridiculous.

Yes Eric, it’s a very curious statement. Off hand, I think of the FALN, Ku Klux Klan, the Weathermen in the 1960s and 70s,
The Jewish Defense League (1980’s), the SLA -1970s and later ( Patti Hearst), and the Army of God (antiabortionist network – 1990s.

Low and behold we still have those fur crazed loonies running about who have joined force in creating the Animal Liberation Front. Free Willy! Throw blood on women who wear mink coats! Destroy animal laboratories! They hell with research that saves human lives.

I view this whole thing as similar in many ways as how we labeled and handled Japanese-American citizens in World War Two.

Only now Muslims are the target in the so called war on terrorism.

During the cold war it was McCarthyism and allegations of domestic communism (vaguely defined) as a danger to democracy. Lives and careers were destroyed.

If we want to push Muslim-American youth into sharing terrorist sentiments and prove the truth of our racist and paranoid delusions, then we should continue to label members of our Muslim communities terrorists and treat them like criminals.

I’d like to know what American Christians would do if they found themselves targeted and treated with this sort of suspicion?

I bet we’d have armed militias on our hands.

Regarding the hearing, Ellison did lie either intentionally or not when he said:

“After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim.”

The reality, however, is that when the Patriot Act was signed it included this little bit:

“Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing.”


I don’t find minorities appealing who assert that racial or ethnic bias (antisemitism, anti-muslimism or anti-whateverism) is the cause of all of their problems.

However, I do think it’s important to recognize when bias exists.

Regarding the U.S. Patriot act. It was nice that they included a paragraph that paid tribute to the U.S. constitution.

It wasn’t so great that they passed an act that violated its principles, gave the Bush administration an enormous amount of power unchecked and has led to some seriously ugly problems.

I do not think the U.S. Patriot act was necessary to deal with terrorism at home and abroad.

Now I will shut my mouth.

@ Michael – With regard to #4, would you consider urban youth indoctrination into gangs an equivalent and equally dangerous form of radicalization? How many people has gang warfare wounded or killed in America?

@ Harrison – I believe Ellison was referring to NY Post article from October 12, 2001, titled “Missing — Or Hiding? — Mystery Of NYPD Cadet From Pakistan” and a October 12 New York Times article titled “Absent Police Cadet Sought After Disappearance”

I looked up the NYTimes article. Here’s what Ellison said again:

“Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim.”

Here’s what Hamdani’s family said in the article:

‘‘The C.I.A., when they were here, were very friendly,’‘ she said. ‘‘The one agent, she was totally moved. She had tears in her eyes. They were here to help.’‘

Ellison is all about dog and pony show, not the truth. Just another example. His crying at the hearing was a nice Lifetime moment though:


Too bad it was a lie.

Bravo! Please publish this piece as an op-ed in a major newspaper. It needs to be heard.

@Bjorn- If only someone would take it.

@Harrison- But as I said in the post, it doesn’t matter. Who cares if he lied or misrepresented what happened? What does that have to do with the larger debate about terrorism?

@MattyP- Well now you are just throwing pitches right over the plate.

Yeah, is gang membership a form of extremism? Considering that gangs often consider themselves a government unto themselves, you could certainly make the argument they have insurgent leanings.

Are they more of a threat to regular Americans? Yes as well, the numbers back that up.

@JCee- Again, was the patriot act needed to solve the problem at hand? Probably not, because terrorism does not kill that many Americans on a yearly basis.

@Jaylo- I agree that there are many other domestic terrorist groups besides Islamic ones. In fact, I think part of the reason crime has gone down in America since 2000 is that the massive increase in federal funding for “counter-terrorism” has really increased the capabilities and size of law enforcement across America.

I will say that Japanese Americans had a much more egregious bias than the current one towards Muslims. We aren’t putting Muslim-Americans in camps. The behavior of America in WWII towards Japanese Americans was shameful.

You don’t see how the only Muslim member of Congress lying during hearings about Islamic terrorism has anything to do with trying to shape the debate?

Great comment. It shows how unprepared the new majority is to perform its role as overseer of the Executive Branch. A lot of press went into King’s prior ties to terrorism but that only played smoke on the lack of preparation by staff. It appears that pandering to emotional feelings is a trait of the republican party. I was hoping Peter King would do better. I guess not. Notwithstanding, I am unsure how much we can trust folks who send money to foreign terrorists. I do not want to treat Muslims like we did the Japanese during WWII but I would lkie to know a little better how the government is handling the issue. In that regard King’s hearing was a total bust—at least as it was reeported.