Two men testified yesterday before a U.S. House of Representatives panel about how their loved ones were radicalized by Islamist extremists and how local mosque leaders did nothing to help alert U.S. authorities of the potential danger.
Yet accounts of their testimony were buried in the Washington Post's front page March 11 story about the Homeland Security Committee's March 10 hearings formally entitled an inquiry into "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."
Dismissing the radicalization hearings as "Lots of drama, less substance," Post staffers David Fahrenthold and Michelle Boorstein spent the first five paragraphs devoted to Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Mich.) emotional testimony.
Fahrenthold and Boorstein then admitted there was substance to the hearings, noting in paragraph six how:
Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American from Minnesota, described how a nephew turned radical and left to fight with an Islamic militia in Somalia. He said religious leaders had discouraged him from going to the authorities, warning that "you will have eternal fire and hell" for betraying Islam.
But the Post staffers quickly sought to downplay the hearings in the next paragraph. "But, this being Capitol Hill, there also were moments of pure theater and genuine acrimony," Fahrenthold and Boorstein lamented, before recounting one example of each from a Republican and a Democrat.
It wasn't until the 16th paragraph that the Post correspondents looked into the testimony of Melvin Bledsoe, whose son was radicalized and subsequently shot up a U.S. Armed Forces recruiting station in Arkansas. Yet in the prior two paragraphs, Bledsoe's and Bihi's testimonies were practically dismissed as inconsequential (emphases mine):
Even so, the hearing raised more questions than it answered. The seven witnesses included no leaders of large Muslim groups and no national law enforcement officials.
Instead, the committee heard narrow but powerful stories, like that of Melvin Bledsoe.
Bledsoe, with thick-rimmed glasses and a Memphis drawl, described his son Carlos as staffers put photos of him on a stand. One showed a sweetly smiling young boy in a red basketball uniform. Another showed a young man in a tuxedo. Then Bledsoe described his son's conversion to radical Islam in college: He took down a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He released a dog into the woods, he said, because Islam regards the animals as unclean.
There were no pictures from this phase of his son's life, when he took the name Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. Bledsoe's son eventually traveled to Yemen and then returned to the United States and allegedly opened fire on a military recruiting station in Arkansas. A soldier died in the attack.
Radical extremism "is a big elephant in the room, " Bledsoe said. "Our society continues not to see it."
Bihi then told the story of his nephew and of Bihi's difficulties getting mosque leaders to help track him down. During questions from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Bihi said he had been told that going to the authorities would mean winding up in prison at Guantanamo Bay, or worse.
"If you do that, you're going to be responsible for the eradication of all mosques and Islamic society in North America," Bihi said he was told.
"Would you call that intimidation?" Lungren responded.
"Intimidation in its purest form," Bihi said.
Boorstein and Fahrenthold closed their article where they began, with Rep. Ellison:
After the hearing, Ellison said his breakdown had been uncharacteristic: He could not remember another such emotional moment in public. But he had met Hamdani's mother just before his testimony, he said. He then became emotional thinking about how, after Hamdani's death, there were rumors that the paramedic had been involved in the attacks - instead of a victim of them.
"Something about meeting his mother caught me off guard," Ellison said later. "Here's an American guy, in every way. And, even in death, he still has to struggle to not be known as 'just one of the Muslims.' "