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. Bets

    If you're going to live in America, call yourself something like "Muslimerican"... then appreciate the country you want to be apart of by speaking the language, removing the head scarf, and practicing your religion in a private/non-confrontational manner. I love the diverse races and unique backgrounds that make America a melting pot of unique individuals, but in order to accommodate the mass amount of unique individuals that make us who we are (The United States of America), we need to set guidelines for the expressing of religion in public and the use of languages other than English. That goes for any and all other religions and foreign speaking individuals as well. Be courteous of others beliefs, remove the headscarf and Christian cross from public places, and speak a language that this government was founded upon.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mojo

      I agree but will never happen. Look at the picture above in this article. No assimilation going on there nor will their be. They want to bring their culture and beliefs here and make us assimilate to them–and this protest is yet more proof.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Kyle

      Remove the head scarf? Should we make the amish wear colors, should we make presbyterians wear pants and short skirts, take away the Mormons magic underwear? Should we stop christian charities because their very existence is proselytising? I'm all for less religion in public, but there is a limit and statements like yours are bigoted because you single out one religion.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  2. Hawkeye1012

    I love Muslims. The more Muslims there are, the more bacon for me.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  3. A10warthog

    Correct me if I'm wrong;but are'nt a lot of terrorist acts committed by muslims?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • pasperdu

      Gosh people, have you already forgotten Timothy McVeigh?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • A10warthog

      You cant answer the question and name 1 American terrorist.Lol.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  4. What to do

    All you folks who want Muslims to protest terrorist cells and bin ladin, could you please tell us where Bin Ladin's Washington office is? It woud give us a place to protest, and make things a lot easier for the US government to find him!

    Please answer my post!!!! I'm anxious to know!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  5. Danny

    Never trust any religion that says kill everyone not a part of our religion

    March 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  6. Daniel

    To those equating obscure, unobserved passages in the Bible trying to suggest it can be misinterpreted the same as teachings in Islam: When's the last time someone bombed a building, or a school, or a market in the name of Christianity? Conversely, how often does it happen in the name of Islam? You can say both can be misinterpreted just the same, but for some reason, one is "misinterpreted" exponentially more often than the other.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Steven

      Last time it happened ? Simple

      Go look at Northern Ireland and count the bombings.
      Go also count the number of iraqis killed in an illegal invasion by a christian country, led by a deeply christian man who said himself that God guided him.
      That last number is in the hundreds of thousands.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  7. What to do

    All you folks who want Muslims to protest terrorist cells and bin ladin, could you please tell us where Bin Ladin's Washington office is? It woud give us a place to protest, and make things a lot easier for the US government to find him!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  8. mike

    It's McCarthyism all over again.

    The Republicans love a good boogeyman.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  9. Suleiman

    Kuffar will so burn in hell fire. What a sad ending to their pathetic little lives. So, is that it – lying, hating and oppressing is your best shot? The day of judgement is coming closer God-willing.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  10. Beth

    I realize that not all Muslims are terrorist, but let's face it: a vast majority of terrorists are Muslims. I've read part of the Koran, and it's quite clear that it's really not a religion of peace. Those Muslims who honestly believe that it is have been grossly misinformed. Those that read the Koran and aren't practicing jihad or, well, hypocrites.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Davidloc

      Have you read the book of Leviticus? Christianity is the most blood thirsty , selfish ideology ever conceived by humanity. All of the ingnorance is "explained" away that , without a doubt, points to the bible being written by a group of very uneducated men. LEV 11:13 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
      LEV 11:19 And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
      The bat is a mammal not a fowl. The bible has hundreds of these examples PER book. I was written by the ancestors of the very people this conference is against not by any god !!!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • CAL USA

      Have you read the Old Testament? There's a lot of bloodhsed there, just as there is through the history of Christianity. We may be just a few years ahead, and in fact sometimes we're not....

      March 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Kyle

      Thats not even remotely based on facts. Check out the Europol statistics for terrorist acts in 2009, only one out of the 200+ acts of terrorism in europe that year were islamic in origin.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  11. livingston

    Just remember that not all the muslims are terrorist but all the terrorists are muslims !

    March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Cindy M

      Timothy McVeigh was a Muslim? I didn't know that.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Davidloc

      Except the IRA . SLA, ETA, etc. It goes on for a long time. I am not Muslim and still think that terrorism has nothing to do with it.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Davidloc

      By it I meant Islam , of course.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • pasperdu

      I did not realize Timothy McVeigh was a Muslim.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Greg

      Except for the American terrorists who are responsible for 1 million dead and 4 million displaced Iraqis and launch illegal drone attacks in Pakistan killing hundreds of civilians or the Israeli terrorists who slaughter Palestinians.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Bob

    To me, it's fairly simple. The Imams are all powerful in their community and mosques. Send them the message "Get control of your people" – all of them. Have them oust their radicals; report them; take action against them, or report them to our authorities. We don't know who the radicals are, but they do. Have them clean their own house.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  13. mm

    These people only have a voice when it concerns them but when radicals are blowing up innocent people they keep quiet. What kind of Americans are they who only look out for their own best interest and don't speak out against murder in the name of their religion. I have no sympathy for them.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  14. jeffbo

    Very normal acting muslims, with good jobs, families and all the adornings suddenly go off the deep end, kill people, kill their family... These are otherwise normal acting people... How can one not have a phobia about them, they flip and thats how they roll.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • cew

      So do "Christians".

      Your argument is invalid based on that fact alone.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  15. steve

    These hearings are clearly stated to be about radicalization. Ordinary muslims are not the target here. Radical muslims are a danger to moderate muslims, too! Rooting out the radicals protects both muslims and non-muslims alike. That is why I question the strong defense of an investigation specifically tageting radicals!!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Joe McCarthy thought that rooting out the communists would protect us all, too. Remember how well that worked? If you aren't old enough to remember, do some research and read a little US History.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  16. Bill D.

    They should be nervous.
    Good thing I don't run the show in the U.S. because every single one of them would be deported back to their ancestral country of origin.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • CAL USA

      Just to cite an example that is extremely visible. Fareed Zakaria, who is one of the most intelligent, rational and well informed political commentators on the scene today, is a Muslim. He is also clearly a loyal American who is applying his considerable skills to the objective all of us should share, to build a more perfect union. If I had to choose betwen getting rid of him and you, it would be no contest. We are better because we have him. On the other hand, I guess we're also better because we agree that we have to tolerate you...

      March 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  17. fastest growing religion

    i just want to know , what is wrong with stoning the adultrer ?

    March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Descarado

      Please testify before these hearings. Your perverted faith needs people with the courage to defend its ridiculous teachings.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • VSam

      Usually the men are go free and the women are stoned to death....that's what is wrong.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • VSam

      Usually the men go free and the women are stoned to death....that's what is wrong.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  18. Paul Willson

    the real threat is people like Mr King . He sees in a community a threat. Amedrica remember the anti Russian purges in the 1920s and again the 1950s. If we forget our history we will repeat it .

    March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • mm

      And let's not forget that Muslims consider all non-Muslims infidels who deserve to die! That is ever before me. When a group of people believe this I cannot trust them.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • VSam

      Look at folks in the middle-east. These folks abuse the workers from Philipines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand... they go to other countries and drink and have a rendevoz...every Bollywood major star is a muslim, drinks , womanizes and has no respect for the law...and then ...you know what I mean..

      March 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  19. Stella

    I agree that all Muslims should not be treated as extremists but for them to be mystified after the many times murder has been committed in the name of Allah is disingenuous. It's also ridiculous, overly politically correct, to broaden to other groups just for the sake of doing it when no other group has threatened us in the same manner. If muslims truly want to help they should police the extremists themselves and defend their faith from them not from us.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Kyle

      Much like christians police all the terrorism that has happened between protestants and catholics? It's always hard to tell the difference between people that make ignorant statements and those who are actually bigoted.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  20. Selfish Gene Simmons

    More like plain RELIGIOPHOBIA.

    Plus, any culture that overtakes another converts it to their culture thus the original culture gets either diminished or replaced, offset by the new majority or a significant majority. The original culture disappears, traditions, the arts, the advancements, all goes back to archaic thought and traditions.

    This could be applied to this situation and other situations where minorities are becoming majorities. Not only in the USA but even say in the UK. Whats the MOST popular name in the UK for male boy names? Look it up.

    Will hispanics play the Blues? Do they like Jazz? Think about it. Most do NOT want to assimilate or improve.

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

      Wanna know how to assuage the general public's fear of radical muslims? Stop blowing up our airplanes.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • CAL USA

      There is much more to a culture than the names people give their children. In this country, we've had multiple waves of immigrants and none have displaced the culture they've found. The've actually enriched it by adding their food, music, art, language, religion and customs. We are a better country today because our population represents every corner of the planet. Perhaps we can serve as a model for the rest of the world by showing that we can learn to live with and respect each other.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • JJ

      Go look in Egypt now... last week, at least 5000 Christians were kicked out of their homes in an upper Egypt village and their church was demolished and a mosque will be built on it. The whole village is united against their neighbors Christians and taking all their belongings... are all these moslems extremists? All real moslems will not accept anything but islam in earth. Satan has been released from his prison as it is written in the revelation book, so islam will grow bigger and bigger in coming future, because satan knows he has little time left before the end has come...

      March 7, 2011 at 6:13 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.