March 7th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

Muslims anxious, active ahead of radicalization hearings

Editor's Note: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt. “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door”, airs Sunday, March 27 at 8 p.m. E.T.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Every day this week, American Muslim activists are working overtime to prepare for congressional hearings on "the radicalization of American Muslims" that open Thursday.

Sunday saw Muslim demonstrators gather in New York's rain-drenched Times Square to protest the hearings, standing with celebrities like Russell Simmons and other non-Muslims who held signs declaring "I am Muslim, too."

On Monday, representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations - a national Muslim advocacy group - met will sympathetic Capitol Hill staffers to discuss communications strategy and grassroots organizing to counter Islamophia.

On Tuesday, a coalition of major Muslim, interfaith and civil rights groups will announce a new campaign and website to push back against politicians and others they say are trafficking in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

And that's before the hearings even begin.

“The community is anxious, uncertain and even fearful in terms of what this could become in this environment,” says Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University who has met with Capitol Hill aides in advance of the hearings.

“There is a generalized sense of Islamophobia floating around, and the hearings are not doing anything to assuage Muslim fears.”

Days before the first in what Rep. Peter King, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, has said will be a series of hearings on American Muslim radicalization, many Muslims are deeply nervous at the specter of being demonized from such a highly visible platform as Capitol Hill. The hearings may stretch out for more than a year.

But King’s hearings also have galvanized American Muslims, perhaps as never before, in an attempt to counter what they call a rising tide of Islamophobia, to lobby Washington about their concerns and to help shape the national narrative about their community.

The efforts come a little more than six months after many Muslims were blindsided by a wave of national opposition to a proposed Islamic cultural center near New York’s ground zero last summer.

“There was this sense after last summer’s events of needing to be more proactive in stemming this activity that stokes anti-Muslim hate,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy group.

“That’s why, as soon as we heard Rep. King say he planned to hold these hearings, we started coming forward to express our concerns,” Khera said.

In February, Muslim Advocates spearheaded a letter to congressional leaders objecting to the hearings. It was signed by more than 50 organizations, including civil rights groups that had not previously been involved with the American Muslim community.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim advocacy group, used its annual lobbying day last month to visit 90 congressional offices to “start offering facts about American Muslims and their role in helping prevent attacks on our nation,” said Corey Saylor, the group’s national legislative director.

Two other groups - the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Arab American Institute - held a briefing, “Islamophobia: A Challenge to American Pluralism,” for Capitol Hill staffers last Wednesday.

The King hearings are also spurring mosques around the country to get more political.

“Muslim Americans make vital contributions every day,” said Hadi Nael, director of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in California, whose congregation is calling and writing Congress to voice opposition to the King hearings.

“They love this country just as every American does and should not be placed under suspicion of terrorism because of their religious beliefs or ethnic background,” he said. “King’s hearings would do just that.”

Muslims and non-Muslims demonstrated in New York

Many Muslim activists said that recent remarks from King, a New York Republican, including his support for a theory that 80% of American mosques are controlled by radical imams, are evidence that he intends to target the American Muslim community broadly with his hearings, rather than focus on Islamic radicals.

“Let’s not fall into the same ugly patterns that were prevalent in earlier years in America, when Jews were suspected of aiding communism and Catholics were suspected of supporting fascism,” said Eboo Patel, a leading Muslim activist, summing up his opposition to the hearings.

“Let’s not repeat that history by blaming all Muslims for the extremist actions of a range of people in this country.”

A White House official appeared at a Muslim community center Sunday to speak about the need to prevent violent extremism, saying U.S. Muslims are part of the solution.

"The bottom line is this - when it comes to preventing violent extremism and terrorism in the United States, Muslim Americans are not part of the problem, you're part of the solution," said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser to President Obama. "Of course, the most effective voices against al Qaeda's warped worldview and interpretation of Islam are other Muslims."

McDonough also said, "We must resolve that, in our determination to protect the nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few. In the United States of America, we don't practice guilt by association."

A White House source said McDonough's speech was not meant as a "prebuttal" to King's hearings, while a spokesman said the administration is finalizing its strategy to help stop violent extremism.

King called for the hearings on Muslim radicalization after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in November's elections. He declined calls from some Democrats to broaden sessions to focus on extremists of all types, including neo-Nazis, radical environmentalists and anti-tax groups.

“Al Qaeda is actively attempting to recruit individuals living within the Muslim American community to commit acts of terror,” King wrote in a letter last month to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, who had suggested that King broaden the hearings’ scope.

“Pursuant to our mandate, the committee will continue to examine the threat of Islamic radicalization, and I will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States,” King’s letter continued.

King told CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley on Sunday that "something from within" the Muslim community is a "threat" to America and needs to be explored.

He compared the goal of the hearings to investigating the Mafia within the Italian community or going after the Russian mob in "the Russian community in Brighton Beach and Coney Island."

"We're talking about al Qaeda," King said. "There's been self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community, within a very small minority, but it's there, and that's where the threat is coming from at this time."

King has yet to release a full witness list for this week’s hearing, exacerbating Muslim anxiety. The sole witness whose name King has released is Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona doctor who is Muslim but who has criticized his religion.

King has also invited Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota - the first Muslim elected to Congress - to testify.

Ellison also appeared on "State of the Union" on Sunday, saying, "I challenge the basic premise of the hearings."

"We should deal with radicalization and violent radicalization, but ... singling out one community is the wrong thing to do," he said.

Democrats have invited Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who has praised Muslim leaders for building relationships with law enforcement authorities, to testify.

A recent survey showed that 56% of Americans support the upcoming hearings, compared with 29% who think they’re a bad idea.

The February survey, conducted by Public Opinion Research and the Religion News Service, found that seven in 10 Americans think Congress should refrain from singling out Muslims and should investigate all religious extremism.

Not all Muslims object to the hearings. American University's Ahmed says that many first-generation American Muslims, feeling rejected both by their parents' culture and by their American peers, are at risk of being radicalized.

"There's a new generation of Muslim Americans who are born here or have grown up here and are no longer fully accepted as Egyptians or Pakistanis, as their parents are," he says. "But America is also rejecting them, day and night Islam is being demonized… they’re suspended between two cultures.”

"Whey you are 18, that can push you into a dangerous situation," Ahmed says. "You can go online and some idiot in the Middle East can push you in a dangerous direction. It has little to do with theology and a lot to do with anthropology."

Other American Muslims interpret King’s hearings as the culmination of years of growing domestic suspicions of their community, dating back to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“For the last 10 years, there has been a movement of intolerance against Muslim Americans, but it hasn’t been above the surface,” says Patel, who leads the Interfaith Youth Corps.

“It’s now clear, from everything from the discussion around the Cordoba House (one name for the proposed New York Islamic center) to the way King has framed the hearings that there is an anti-Muslim sentiment in America that is reminiscent of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism,” he said.

“But I’d rather it be out in the open like it is now,” Patel continued.

According to the Justice Department, there were 107 anti-Muslim hate-crime incidents in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, up from 28 such incidents in 2000.

With the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the horizon and some likely contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination talking up the threat of Islamic law, or sharia, taking hold in the United States, many Muslims said they fear the worst is to come.

But many are also feeling that their community is finally preparing itself to take on those challenges.

“This is a very American thing, congressional hearings,” said Ahmed of this week’s King session. “Let’s present the complexity and sophistication of Islam so Americans understand it better. It’s a teaching moment.”

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Bonney Kapp and Rebecca Stewart contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • 9/11 • Islam • Politics

soundoff (1,742 Responses)
  1. Carl

    So the American Muslim community is finally stepping forward in force to make their voices heard! Not against the countless atrocities perpetrated by their own extremist community that time and again horrify their fellow Americans. They are not shouting down the imams who preach hate and violence and removing them from peaceful mosques. They are not protesting the insensitivity of a giant mosque at the heart of Ground Zero. They are not protesting the repeated acts of violence that cause the TSA to clamp down with ever more draconian measures on travelers. No, the American Muslim community directs their ire at an investigation into why so many of their sons are becoming radicalized here in the U.S. I personally would welcome any assistance possible were my son going down such a path.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Mojo

      That's because "moderate Muslims" are not objecting to the violence– they just dont condemn it. Only 5% of Germans were Nazi's– yet 95% sat by and did nothing. Sames true of Muslims. And we will get the same end result.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • gene

      Exactly. You are either American or muslim, not both. I would chew my leg off before I'd ever trust a muslim.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  2. lou50

    round them up and safely deport them home so they can enjoy the smell of the open sewers.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  3. Sunspot

    It's all about the oil...

    March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  4. Unknown

    As a non-religious person, I sympathize with your cause. We too are facing prejudice and discrimination here in America and we dream some day people will look at us as human and not associate us with the horrible acts what a few individuals did.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Playgurl89

      I too am a non-religious person and I feel like Christians and Catholics are just as bad as Muslims can be towards people who don't believe in what they believe in. Just because I don't think there is someone watching over me constantly doesn't mean I'm stupid or ignorant. I let you guys pray and have your churches and don't say anything, why can't you do the same for me? Leave us and every other religious group alone...

      March 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  5. JoeMichigan

    The Islamic world should welcome these hearings. It is their chance to say that Sharia law has no standing in our land and that they fully understand that the laws of the land will be upheld and Sharia law will not be tolerated. It is a very simple way of stating their intentions. If they don't like that issue, then what are they hiding and willing to do to advance the movement of Sharia in the US? The law of the land must be upheld and be the highest authority. Religous laws have no bearing in the US, and that means any and all religions. Period!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  6. Leonard Metts

    I saw the FBI story on video this weekend, this muslims, New York hearing speaks of Mccarthey, The FBIs' past Mr. Hover who died in office, files hidden and mislabled ect. you get the idea...History repeats when education fails and herd like behavior prevails........

    March 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  7. Mary Hoff

    My grandfather (the son of an illegal immigrant 1869) lived through the Catholic persecutions in the state of Indiana in the 1920's. Livestock raided, crosses burned in the yard and constant fear from his neighbors. All because of a misplaced fear that the Pope was going to take over the US if the Catholic's ever became a majority. IN the 70's, we couldn't understand how anyone could have acted that way because of religion.

    He was a proud WWI veteran and always told us that he fought for our rights to practice any religious belief and not to ever let anyone take away our right to criticize the government.

    We don't need another Manzanar or Trail of Tears. It's 2011 and we need to stop fearing other's beliefs.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  8. Descarado

    Muslims are not multi-cultural. They have no intention of assimilating into any country they move into to suck-up the social benefits. It is their way or the highway. They have no intention of adopting British, French, Swedish, German or American cultures.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • What to do

      That's amazing!! Go to a mosque and you'll see that there are probably more cultures praying together in one room then in single neighborhood in the picket fence, white suburbs! Ignorance is not good for you!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  9. kap

    It's funny that we see so many Muslims publicly outraged and marching against non-violent tribunals when what we really need is Muslims publicly outraged and marching against their violent brethren who are terrorizing the world. I would be more sympathetic to the non-violent Muslim argument (with which I actually agree) but many like me are wondering when the peaceful Muslims are going to start decrying their violent brothers.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • What to do

      Where are the Muslims going to protest Bin Laden? Does he have a Washington Office we could go to???

      March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • What to do

      Please reply, and tell me where to protest against Bin Laden! If you give me a great idea, I'll set something up and we could go protest as a group!!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Playgurl89

      I totally agree. They shouldn't be protesting us, the country who let them in. They should be protesting the country that made them leave!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  10. wisam

    MY BROTHER WAS JUST THE VICTIM OF A HATE CRIME IN FAIRFIELD IOWA JUST BECAUSE HIS NAME IS USAMA full report in the chicago tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-ia-hatecrime-filmmak,0,1393709.story

    March 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • true talker

      wisam...we dont want you here..

      March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • CatchMe

      Again, you and all your muzzy asses go to hell and suck on your gay allah

      March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  11. Balanced

    The fact that anyone can say white, non-Christian nut-jobs (McVeigh, Unabomber), and the Crusades (land grab by the Catholic Church) are Christian – true Christian – is stupid.

    None of the atrocities by these non-Christians mentioned above compare to the organized take over of Islam. How can you argue with the Quran passages?

    Don't even bother arguing the Bush War. It's an old argument that has nothing to do with one religion subjugating everyone else.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  12. Sy2502

    Here's an idea for these "moderate Muslims" who feel nervous about a hearing on the radicalization of Islam. Instead of protesting against the hearing, why don't they protest against their radical Muslim brothers who have spurred the hearing? Because oddly enough, you never see any of these "moderate Muslims" take to the streets against their terrorist brothers, against the supposed misuse of their religion for violent purposes, etc. Why not?

    March 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Max

      because they would be marked for death immediately, islam is fascism, muslim = cowardice

      March 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Mojo

      Exactly. When they held an anti terrorism rally in detroit and less than 20 Muslims showed up. If you are an infidel– you are on your own. When its about their concerns– they show up in mass. Tells me all I need to know right there.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  13. george in texas

    msulims were given many chances to help against terror. but they stonewalled, lied, misled, and even called us names for wanting to defend ourselves against terror. muslims never explicitly condemn a given islamic act terror, they remain silent and when pushed to react they merely condemn "all forms of terror". i say let there be hearing, for we can not cout on muslims to help eliminiate terror. let it all hang out. it is our burden to civilize muslim society whether they want it or not.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Mike

      Absolutely right, they are hypocritical and not trustworthy and even if they did not participate in the acts of Terror, many of them were aware of what has been planned but choose to keep silent about it. And now all of the sudden America has to bow down to them? Why do this at the cost of jeopardizing our own security?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  14. Darth Vadik, CA

    Who the F is Peter King to be questioning people, I'd flip him off and walk out, it isn't the court of law, only Congress, and those guys are not the ones to be preaching any kind of morality to the rest of us...

    March 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  15. appalled

    If we got rid of all the religions we wouldn't have these problems. Those myths & fables have caused chaos in this world than anything else. Start thinking & questioning!!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. Descarado

    One can never reconcile Islam with Western democracy or universal suffrage. It is the wife-beating, woman stoning cult of death and destruction founded by a perverted pedophile.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Masako

      You're describing Christianity, which set the preset for Islam. With stoning, wife beating, etc.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Max

      masako, your people still practice those methods of fascism today, your point is moot, islamic ideology is dangerous to the civilized world, unless you define civilization as practiced in ALL muslim countries

      March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  17. Bryant @ SJC

    March may stand a chance as long as the Muslims don't cut off any heads in the process...har har...

    March 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Toby

    Islamophobia is a term that makes no sense. A phobia is an irrational fear of something or someone. Now, considering that Islam sanctions the brutality of women, martyrdom, murder of non-believers, and a disdain for critical thought, I don't believe those are irrational fears. I have no hatred or contempt for Muslims. I do, however have a genuine fear of the teachings and precepts of the Islamic faith-they are not amenable to reason, compassion, or autonomy of thought. So there you have it-Islamophobia is nonsense.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Opie

      Produce some ayat and hadith to support your claims. I know Robert Spencer may have told you that's the case but did you ever question his (lack of) credentials?

      March 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • The Jester


      March 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • steve

      Well said.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • steve

      What I meant was....well said Toby.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Lee

      Hey Toby. I think if you did a little research and met some Muslim people instead of believing everything you hear you might feel a little different. Your statement is a prime example of why such a term exists. Please educate yourself and stop spewing ignorant hatred. You are not helping anyone.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • The Jester

      ***I want to clarify that my first reply of "AGREED." was meant for Toby.

      To Toby: I meant I agree with YOU. Not wanting to be governed by religion (including Islam) is NOT islamophobic.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • joe

      Excellent point, never thought of the term that way. It is a completely rational fear and caution against an oppressive, violent, and intolerant people.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • EstebanHerrera

      Okay, I'll say it: if people picking out clips of the Bible and saying it preaches hate and intolerance can be taken as fact, then people reading the Quran, picking out bits and pieces, and saying it preaches hate and intolerance can also be taken as fact.

      Is Islam actually predicated on violence? Not really. But it can be made to read that way and a lot of people choose to do that. There's only going to be so many more suicide bombers possessing the Islamic faith that can be taken before people will have to accept that maybe there are some violent Muslims out there.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Li

      From one Li to another (Lee)

      He's right. You're an idiot. Please end yourself and take all your bleeding-hearted friends with you.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • jason

      it's called an oxymoron, moron

      March 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • AlisonNoelle

      The very idea that this is a rational fear is ridiculous. It's like saying well I was attacked by a Mexican so I'm afraid of all Mexicans. It makes no sense. How can you rationally fear a people as a whole when the majority are kind, hard working, caring people who just want to live their lives. EVERY religion has it's extremists but I don't see a whole lot of people fearful of Christians or Jews when they have both committed atrocities against their fellow man as well. While I consider myself a Christian woman I believe that if people would step down off of their soap boxes and stop needing to be right all the time we would realize that we all have much more in common than you think. Like the fact that we are human being with red blood, brains and souls, which is what really matters.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Martin Sheen

      Yup. Muslims have shown no desire to become Americans. They just want to transplant and take over as evidenced all across the globe. It's not happening in the U.S. alone.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • BD

      A good litmus test to disprove the so called peaceful Muslims.....Peaceful Muslims would you rather live in a country like Iran or Pakistan that is governed by Islamic Law or a country that is governed by Christian principles like the US?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Brian Macker

      Actually, you have to pick out tiny pieces of the Quran to make it sound peaceful. Many of the most famous peaceful quotes in context are obviously crocodile tears. You don't just get done telling explicitly why and how a people should be exterminated, call their beliefs "mischief" deserving of death, and then get to call yourself peaceful because you'll spare them if they convert, which you then follow with more instructions on what body parts to dismember in what order.

      There's a reason why extremism in Islam leads to mass murder and extremism in Jainism to avoidance of the stepping on ants.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  19. SigmundFreud

    And Representative King was a strong supporter of the gang of terrorist murders known as the Irish Republican Army.

    Civilians killed by "accident" by the IRA? Too bad, said Representative King.

    Pot, meet kettle.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  20. wisam

    My brother Usama Alshaibi was BRUTALLY beaten up 2 nights ago in Iowa. Why? Because when asked his name he said Usama and they started to kick his face in.. I have submitted an iReport http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-567207

    Usama is an American citizen too! What is this country turning into!?

    The story is gaining international attention, here is a report from the chicago reader

    March 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Li

      Go back to Poland you hippie!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Anarcho-Syndicalist

      Sad, but it is not limited to Muslims.
      i've seen Phillies fans get beaten at a bar for the shirt they were wearing.
      I've seen gays get into fights for looking too "Flaming"

      But lets face it, when you are in hostile territory, it is no time to flaunt your "pride".
      Perhaps he could use a more American name?

      March 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

      Yeah right, we believe you, you're religion requires you to lie and even if it was true, it's better than being murdered like your Muslim breathen do to Americans, here and abroad.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |

      @anarcho, and I've heard and read of Americans and Christians being MURDERED for being Americans and Christians.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • CatchMe

      Go to hell

      March 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • DEBRA

      I think that most Muslims are good people ,but at the same time their are thousands all around the world that are not it depends what side your on .After 911 never know who to trust .

      March 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Dan


      March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.