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NY Congressman King Fends off Critics on Top Terror Expert Testimony at Congressional Hearings

March 3rd 2011

Congressional issues - Rep Peter T. King
U.S. Rep. Peter T. King

Outspoken US Representative Peter T. King (R-NY) denounced efforts to prevent Walid Phares, an American expert of Lebanese Christian descent and an expert on Islamism, from providing testimony to the U.S. Congress on Islamic terrorism. The Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a controversial organization based in Washington, D.C., with branch offices elsewhere in the US, has called upon Congress to block Phares’s testimony. Congressman King, who has been outspoken about Islamic terrorism and its threat to U.S. security ever since 9/11, issued a statement defending Phares.

“Professor Walid Phares is a respected author, scholar and expert on Islamist Jihadism. For several months Professor Phares has been advising the Homeland Security Committee staff and me in preparing for Committee hearings on Islamist or Jihadi radicalization.” King noted that Phares had agreed to serve as a witness at committee hearing,“ should the need arise.” According to King, Phares’s “only caveat was to warn me that certain elements would charge that as a Christian he is not qualified to testify as a representative from Muslim communities. I assured him that would not stop me from asking him to testify.”

King declared in his statement that while Phares will not testify at the first hearing, scheduled for March 10, the professor is expected to “testify at future hearings regarding Jihadi ideologies and strategies. My staff and I will also continue to rely upon Professor Phares for his advice and counsel at these hearings.”

Dropping Phares from the initial hearing has brought King some criticism. King reportedly said that he plans to rely on Muslim witnesses in the hope this would lend credibility to the March 10 hearings and avoid controversy. Islamist groups accuse Phares, who is a contributor to Fox News, of having been in the leadership of the Lebanese Forces Coalition which defended the Christian communities in Lebanon. As of February 24, King’s office confirmed that Phares was not testifying at the initial hearing.

Republican King was unfazed by criticism that the coming initial hearing would be largely populated by Muslims. “I strongly believe that there is a concerted effort by al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates to recruit young Muslims living legally in this country,” King said. “It is a real threat, and it deserves our attention.” King hopes to spark dialogue over Islam and efforts within the US Muslim community in support of the war on terrorism. The congressman is looking to call on witnesses who have not previously appeared before his committee, leaving some notable experts such as Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes out in the cold.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a former Catholic and the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, will also participate as a witness. Fifty-one Muslim, civil rights, and interfaith groups sent a letter in February to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), protesting King’s hearings as modern-day McCarthyism. They said that if Congress was going to investigate violent extremism, it should investigate extremists of all kinds and not just Muslims. “Singling out a group of Americans for government scrutiny based on their faith is divisive and wrong,” said the letter, which was led by Muslim Advocates, a legal and policy organization in San Francisco, and was signed by non-Muslim groups including Amnesty International USA, the Interfaith Alliance and the Japanese American Citizens League. Ellison said that while he would participate, “I’m going to make it clear that I challenge the premise of the hearings.” Looking at radicalization from the Muslim perspective, King said, could yield a constructive perspective.

CAIR asked King in a February 23 news release to forbid Phares’s testimony. The organization exercises influence in the US Muslim community and has been at the forefront of numerous lawsuits over issues regarding traditional Muslim garb and what it considers to be Islamophobia. Despite an immediate denunciation by CAIR of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has long been the subject of continuous criticism for its reputed ties to Islamist terror organizations such as Hamas.

Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.

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