King Hearings: Right to Attorney = Enabling Extremism?

Zuhdi Jasser’s opening statement today during the King Hearings touched on several important points. He wants an American-Muslim community that is loyal to this country; he wants the “liberty narrative” to be used to inoculate against the “Islamist narrative”; and finally, he wants the acronym soup of American-Muslim organizations to stop enabling the growth of Islamist ideology. However, he constructs all these arguments without actually addressing the reason people are concerned about these hearings: namely, that they violate the church-state clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth.

No one denies that Muslims should be loyal to the country. Part of truly loving your country is also being willing to criticize when you believe it to be wrong. That is the very definition of civic and political engagement: make your society better. As we’ve seen in the Arab world recently, the “liberty narrative” is not foreign to Muslims, and does not need to be inculcated. Like any skill, it must be developed and nurtured. That holds true for all Americans, not just Muslims.

Unfortunately, Jasser’s argument starts falling apart when he gets to specifics, and shows he does not comprehend why people are upset by these hearings. His evidence that a group like Muslim Advocates is enabling “political Islam” is that they encourage Muslims to have a lawyer present when they speak to law enforcement.

This is not a sign of duplicity, but of exercising one’s rights. If one is audited by the IRS, do you go in with a tax attorney or accountant? I would, and not because I have anything to hide, but because they are experts in dealing with these individuals. It is my right as an American citizen, and I hold my rights dearly. The objection to these hearings is Constitutional: you cannot single out a group of people as a class for the actions of a few from that class. That’s not equal protection under the law.

But while Jasser is absolutely right about the debates that need to happen within religious communities it’s not the government’s job to interfere or dictate which conversations religions have in this country. You cannot protect the Constitution by being unconstitutional.

Oddly enough, while he criticizes the criticism of the NYPD report, he fails to recognize that the NYPD reworked their strategy in a way that they state makes it better and stronger. Political engagement is not an inherent evil, but a necessary act toward good.

I think Pete King could have been a positive catalyst for these sorts of conversations if he had arranged for convenings in his local district. Bringing together Muslims and scholars and asking about what was going on and how he could help make sure these conversations were happening and getting publicized. I would gladly take part in those conversations and I would like to work with someone like Jasser on these questions.