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Dean Rejects Gingrich’s ‘Radical Islam’ Fearmongering: ‘Radical Anything Is What’s Bad’

Later this month, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY), who has referred to American Muslims as the “enemy living amongst us,” will hold hearings to investigate the influence of radical Islam on America. King has said that he is focused on the U.S. Muslim community because “that’s where the radicalizing threat is coming from.”

Yesterday, a coalition of civil rights and faith groups sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), advocating that King should broaden the scope of his hearings beyond targeting the Muslim community and examine “violence motivated by extremist beliefs, in all its forms.” The ranking member on King’s Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), endorsed the spirit of that request.

In his own letter to King, Thompson cited data from the Department of Homeland Security noting that neo-Nazi groups pose as much — or greater — threat than do Islamic extremists. “I believe that this Committee’s exploration of the current and emerging threat environment should be a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups,” Thompson wrote, “regardless of their respective ideological underpinnings.” King quickly brushed off the request to broaden the scope of the hearings. “I don’t believe it warrants an answer,” King said of the letters. “I am too busy preparing for the hearings.”

The clash between the progressive and conservative visions for targeting extremism was on full display last night during a debate between former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Gov. Howard Dean. Like Peter King, Gingrich harped on the need to confront “radical Islam,” which he said is the most dangerous threat facing the world. Dean responded:

I’m a little uncomfortable focusing on the notion of ‘radical Islam’ because the truth is radical anything is what’s bad, and people who use violence — (applause). … What radicals do is they polarize people to get this kind of reaction. … Intolerance breeds intolerance. And we can’t fight intolerance with intolerance. … The radicals that are targeting us are in fact bigoted, misogynist, and intolerant. And if we respond that way, they’ve won. I’m not gonna give up what America believes in because different individuals happen to belong to a particular religion or to a particular sect.

Gingrich responded by conceding that he’d be happy to find a different term than “radical Islam,” but then mused, “There have been, to the best of my knowledge, no radical Norwegians.” Watch it:

A few points in response to Gingrich. First, there are radical Norwegians, just as they are radicals of different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities. Secondly, he fails to concede in his story about the Times Square Bomber that the street vendor who alerted authorities to the burning car was in fact a Muslim, and that Muslims are key allies in confronting the threat of violent extremists. And lastly, the threat of “radical Islam” is actually decreasing, according to a new analysis released today.

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The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reports that, while 47 Muslim-Americans committed or were arrested for terrorist crimes in 2009, the number dropped to 20 this past year. Tips from the Muslim American community provided the source of information that led to a terrorist plot being thwarted in 48 of 120 cases involving Muslim Americans, according to the study. The author of the study, UNC Prof. Charles Kurzman, said, “This trend offers a challenge for the American public: If we ratchet up our security concerns when the rate of terrorism rises, should we ratchet down our concerns when it falls?”