From Congressman Keith Ellison's emotional breakdown to Congresswoman Jackie Speier's accusations of "racism," last week's hearings on Muslim radicalization have made it clear that those who oppose the hearings have little of substance to offer. Still, the tactics used by such apologists—namely, appeals to emotionalism and accusations of racism—are influential enough that they need to be addressed and discredited once and for all.
For starters, though it would have been unheard of generations ago and seen as a sign of instability, public crying is the latest rage for politicians. A 2007 Associated Press report puts it well: "Tears, once kryptonite to serious presidential candidates, today are more often seen as a useful part of the political tool kit"—and are thus indicative of an increasingly therapeutic society, one more interested in a show of catharsis than facts.
Yet, tears aside, if we wish to be objective for a moment, Ellison's testimony—culminating with his choking up and leaving the hearing—contributes nothing to the topic of Muslim radicalization in America. Instead, it raises more questions about Ellison—a former Nation of Islam leader, mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood front-group CAIR, and critic of the U.S. Constitution.
Indeed, arguing that "suit-and-tie" Islamists have penetrated Western societies and are manipulating the legal system to their advantage—including by imposing aspects of Islamic law, winning special privileges for themselves, and, of course, shutting down criticism of Islam—Daniel Pipes has singled out Ellison as representing a far greater threat to Western civilization than Osama bin Laden.
Did Ellison feign an emotional breakdown during his opening remarks to leave the hearing and evade follow-up questions from Congressman Peter King and others—concrete questions about Muslim radicalization that he preferred not to respond to—or were his tears sincere? Either way, it is not clear which is worse: another obfuscating politician, or a politician whose emotions so dominate him that he cannot carry out his responsibilities.
While we are on the topic of strategic-weeping, it is relevant to note that authoritative Muslim scholars, such as Ibn Hajar, recommend deceiving infidels with crocodile tears: "Revealing one thing while secretly planning another is the essence of deception; moreover, the hadith incites [Muslims] to take great caution in war, while [publicly] lamenting and mourning in order to dupe the infidels" (The Al Qaeda Reader, p.142). This is not to conclude that Ellison is taking lessons from Hajar, but that even the most rabid jihadists—not just American politicians—are aware of the power of tears as a ruse.
The other tactic that frequently arises and is in dire need of being laid to rest—permanently—is this business of trying to stifle any talk on Islam and Muslims by labeling it "racist." One would have thought it was obvious, but apparently it needs stressing: race and religion have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Race is inherent, represented by physical characteristics; religion is learned, impacting the mind, regardless of race. Thus most major religions—especially Christianity and Islam—have adherents from all races and ethnicities.
Despite these obvious facts, uncritical thinkers like Congresswoman Jackie Speier—or simply garden-variety manipulators—constantly cry "racism" when Islam and Muslims come under scrutiny. This approach is ubiquitous: discussing the Fort Hood shootings, a former American soldier lamented that "When a white guy shoots up a post office, they call that going postal. But when a Muslim [namely, Nidal Hasan] does it, they call it jihad." Notice the confusion; as if a "white guy" and a "Muslim" represent different races. (What if the person is a "white Muslim," as in the instance of Hasan?)
Of course, if a person of any color goes on a random shooting spree, it would be racist to pin it on his race. But if a person of any color goes on a shooting spree—while waving the Koran, screaming Allahu Akbar, or otherwise rationalizing his actions in Islamic terms, as did Nidal Hasan—then we are talking about a shooting spree motivated by a learned ideology or worldview that has nothing to do with the shooter's race.
And this is the whole point: tears and moral outrage aside, while it is important to recognize that not all Muslims are jihadists, it is equally important to acknowledge that all jihadists are Muslims—hence the need to delimit the hearings to the Muslim community. You will not find jihadists ensconced among neo-Nazis or other "radicals." Moreover, as Peter King put it:
There is no equivalency of threat between al-Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al-Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed, by the Justice Department's own record, not one terror-related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.
Based on these initial hearings, it is clear that the apologists have little to offer. As Jennifer Rubin writes at the Washington Post, "The Democrats' unhinged rhetoric and wild accusations did more to undermine their opposition to the hearings than anything King could possibly have said." Yet crying tears or "racism!" is emblematic of a greater problem: politicians trying to appeal to the people's emotions, not their reason—an approach that has historically had horrific consequences.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum.