Terrorism hearings spark debate: Politics for the Upstate Student

Posted by Julia Grigel

Assessing the state's readiness to respond to security threats is always a good thing, unless you seek advice from people who themselves should be considered national security threats.

State Senator Greg Ball is holding a hearing in lower Manhattan today called "Reviewing our Preparedness: An Examination of New York's Public Protection Ten Years After September 11." Ball, a Hudson Valley Republican, has called for the hearing as chairman of the State Senate Committee on Homeland Security. The hearing is set to cover a range of topics, focusing on public safety and public protection in the case of a crisis situation, be it a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

But, so far, the terrorism part has gotten most of the attention. Ball has expressed concern that the state has been lulled into complacency by the passage of time since Sept. 11. In March, he said that "as New Yorkers, we live in the world's most likely terrorist target and as the ten year anniversary of Sept. 11 grows near, we must assess the measures that are being taken to protect our citizens from these types of threats, as well as what preventative measures we should be taking to ensure our continued safety."

Sounds good. But today's hearing has been the subject of heated debate in Albany, largely because of its inclusion of controversial anti-Islam activist Nonie Darwish. Darwish is known for her belief that the Islamic Law establishes jihad as the duty of every Muslim to struggle against the non-Muslim community. By inviting Darwish to speak at the hearing, as Senate Democrats have charged, Ball is turning what should be a hearing on national security into a discriminatory anti-Islam hearing. By including such people at the hearing, according to Senate Democrats in a letter to Ball, "you conflate the religious observations and practices of a faith into a security matter."

The letter, signed by State Senator Kevin Parker and several other senators, raised the vital criticism that talking about the nature of Islamic law should have nothing to do with talking about the best way to respond to national security threats. A speaker who underscores the dangers of radicalized Islam might be informative in certain contexts, but definitely should not be part of a conference intended to assess the New York region's readiness to deal with a potential terrorist threat or natural disaster.

In addition to Darwish, the hearing will include U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY), who held Congressional hearings on the subject of the radicalization of American Muslims last month. Dubbed the modern-day McCarthy, King has proudly vowed to fight "crippling political correctness," and has taken on the issue of homegrown Islamic terrorism, which he sees as "the elephant in the room." The hearings generated more political heat than they did concrete answers.

Peter King, unlike Darwish, does not attempt to argue that Islam is inherently violent — but he nonetheless embodies prejudice. The presence of people such as King and Darwish undermines what could have been a constructive effort to assess and improve New York City's responsiveness to terrorism and natural disaster. A radicalized character who fights extremism with extremism is perhaps not the best person to bring to a hearing about improving a city's ability to respond to extremism.

King recently returned to the spotlight when he was sent a bloody severed pig's foot in Congressional mail. Presumably, the foot was a hateful response to his Islamic radicalization hearings. "Anytime you get involved in any controversial issue, there's always going to be extremes that react," said King in response to the foot incident. He's right: "extremes" do react to controversial issues, and he is one of them.

Today's hearing in New York has already generated some intense emotions. By including people like Peter King at the hearing, Greg Ball has blown his cover. It's obvious that his motives extend beyond a simple concern for our state's security, and people are not happy about it. It remains to be seen how extreme the debate will get (and if anybody will even touch on natural disasters). Maybe Ball won't be bequeathed with a bloody pig's foot, but he definitely shouldn't be surprised when he receives some flak for endorsing intolerant speakers under the guise of increasing security.

Julia is a senior who enjoys politics, especially when they're reactionary, Nihilist, German, or a combination of each.

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