Faiza Patel, an attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice, writes a piece for The Hill that lists a series of questions that were worthy of asking at Peter King's hearings yesterday. Chief among them, Patel says, is whether the right to worship and pursue an active religious life is being associated with a potential for terrorism.
Finally, we should have an accounting of current anti-radicalization measures, evaluating their coherence, effectiveness, and consonance with our shared constitutional values. The FBI’s approach would seem to justify monitoring religious behavior. And, despite denials from its director, there is mounting evidence that the FBI is placing informants in mosques simply to find out what the imam and those who worship there are saying. The Bureau should explain how this approach comports with First Amendment values of free speech, association, and religion. Equally important, the FBI should make clear how keeping tabs on American Muslims’ religious beliefs affects its critical relations with these communities, whose members have been instrumental in disrupting some 40 percent of terrorist plots.
Patel points out that the FBI differs with the National Counterterrorism Center, in that it espouses a model where a religious epiphany is followed by religious extremism which then leads to violence. What is religious extremism in the Muslim community? And how or should it relate to the question of investigating terrorism? These are touchy topics that do call into question the right of Muslims to pursue their religion without government interference.
In one sense, King's hearings are limited, provincial, and biased; on the other, they could raise serious discussion points about rights and practices in politically difficult times. The hearing in this view is a missed opportunity to shed intelligible light on something that concerns many Americans. If King follows through on his promise to have more, then let's hope he tries to take the discussion past a surface level of political showmanship.