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. Rabbi David

    Its a bunch of tax dollars up in non sense. If you can't let the FBI and Homeland Security just do their jobs then WHY for the love of sanity have hearings?? Illegal activity is just that. Does not matter if its Jewish, Islamic or Christian. But then the system does need to keep all of you divided or it can't rule.And hearings like this just provoke more non sense.That is the reality lesson of whats wrong in Mr Rogers Neighborhood today.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  2. fu9l

    lets see why..... mussilums blew up the trade center..... it is well known in some of there religous leaders have called for the destruction of america in american mosques.... they teach hate of those not mussilum... more people have been killed in recient years becuase of or directly a result of mussilums.... and you ask why, like you didnt know until the mussilums take control of there religous weinnies this kind of discontent with mussilums will continue.... it has been left up to you to stop the hate and misdirection of what once was a decient religon and you havent done a thing to change peoples minds in reguard to this fast becomming most hated religon in the world... hey bet you didnt know even in europe mussilums have become more hated than any other religous group it is there lack of action towards the extremists that draws concern and the reason for this type of actions that will be comming soon

    March 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • sam

      Learn how to spell muslim first than post your stupid comments.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  3. jackson

    When Muslims purge their ranks of all the crazies that think 50 virgins are waiting for them for killing innocent people in countries where they're a guest, they can join the 21st century world. Until then, I put them in the same category as rats that carried the bubonic plague in the middle ages. That doesn't make me anti-rat, it just makes me aware of reality.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Joe

      50 big hairy virgin dudes are waiting for them on the otherside..what women would want to sleep with a guy that blew himself up?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  4. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    For those of you who think the Islamic religion is too dangerous to co-exist with (even though the world's been co-existing with it for over 1300 years), you'd better come out and say what your game plan is to deal with the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and the Muslims in our country. Like, what, exactly, you suggest we do about all of them.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  5. CommonSensical

    The worst terrorist act in our history was perpetrated by muslim fanatics. – Al Queda Backed Group – WTC 9/11/01
    The second worst terrorist attack in country was perpetrated by a Christian fanatic – Timmothy McVeigh – OKC Federal Building 4/19/95
    I still remeber a radical Jewish group, The JDL, which sent letter bombs, one of which killed an innocent young woman.
    The idea of hearing on radicalism is good, but they need to expend it to include all religeons and groups which advocate and use violence. The fact that they havent shows that these hearings are just meant to insult, marginalize and disenfranchise muslims.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  6. Peacemaker

    This is for ALL the Fearmongers posting:

    "No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. ALL collective judgments are wrong. ONLY racists make them." ~ Elie Wiesel, a Jew, survivor of the Holocaust and Human Rights activist.

    When you judge ALL Muslims, you can not call yourself a Christian!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Joe

      Orthodox religion is about control, to control it's followers to tell them how to live what to eat how to eat it when to eat it. You can ram your religion up your backside.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  7. evil islam

    I heard the Muslims have a new slogon BOMBS AWAY..

    last 20 bombers were ??? anyone ?? MUSLIM
    Did muslims hurt/kill over the pastor just saying he will burn the quran. YES. Islam is evil and we need it removed.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  8. allanhowls

    I'm much more worried about radical Christians with checkbooks and a senator's ear than I am about a couple of Muslims with bombs.

    The power-mad dominionists can kill you over and over again, bit by bit, day by day, turning this fair nation into their own vision of a Christian Caliphate. A bomb can only kill you once.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  9. pj

    Santa Claus and Allah. The same thing but Santa doesn't call for violence.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • sam

      Too bad Allah is the same as your god just different language.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  10. Dwayn Davis

    Im not sure where I stand on this because I feel like we as Americans should not repeat our not so nice history here in the USA but at the same time i still feel like we need to protect ourselves and our country.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  11. xuzhang

    Timothy McVeigh was 20 years ago. There's a Muslim Timothy McVeigh blowing himself up every week, if not every day.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  12. jackson

    I'm confused, why is Cornelius from Planet of the Apes in this picture?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. Again?

    So here we have the new Senator McCarthy of the 21st century. King, a small minded man who, in his own fear and ignorance, chooses to scapegoat minorities for his own political gain. A pathetic and unrespectable individual.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  14. pj

    WHO CARES about religion? Religions do nothing but create segregation and make good fairy tales. I believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and never have to waste my time going to a mosque. Allah is Bulls#&t

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

      Pagan here forget god and jesus and god they never existed the book called the Bible is a great work of Fiction brought to you buy the Catholic Church.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  15. twyla

    The US Congress needs to focus on the budget, jobs, etc. The Dept of Homeland Security and the FBI should be the ones handling any investigations related to radical anything in the US. Just another way for them to appear to be working when they are just wasting time and money.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Terri L

      So true!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  16. Kj

    The Extremists and the Neanderthals from Westboro are the reason America needs to be stronger than calling each other names via the Internet...we have bigger issues!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  17. WolfWaker

    If you came here to be an American, then act like an American. I am tired of all the labels, Muslim American, African American etc. Proud to say I am an American.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Terri L

      You can thank our government and the media for the labels.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  18. AR

    Is there also going to be a 'American Christian Radicalization' hearing?
    That Idiot group from Kansas, the one that protests on funerals, is nothing if not American Christian Radicals.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Terri L

      Yep, radicals come in every "flavor" available.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Yes, that group from Kansas is disgusting and I hate them but they are out in the open saying look at me while the other extremist hide in their basements making pipe bombs and nobody knows who they are. Big difference.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  19. Tyhouston

    "What ever you say,of course We will all kneel to the prophet of God upon his return to earth from heavens as told in our holy book."

    Five bucks say the prophet is killed for blasphemy because no one -really- believes. It's all a act, and if it actually happened we'd kill the vessel, why? Cause that's what we always do...

    March 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  20. Amirah M.

    Hello, I am an American Muslim woman who's husband was killed due to hate crimes. What could my husband have possibly done to deserve this? Nothing, because of the ignorance that exists and continues to spread. He was not a terrorist, he was never involved in terrorism, and he never knew a terrorist. Yet he was killed for the wrong doings of others. He was a peaceful man and he wouldn't hurt a fly. Because of his death, my two children (ages 12 and 9) will have to live without a father for the rest of their lives. And why? Because of false assumptions and generalizations. Please understand that Muslims are not terrorists but that people are led to believe so through the media and simply what you hear and see. I am not hear to preach but Islam is a religion of peace, not violence, but the hate crimes that were committed against my husband and my children's father were no doubt of nothing but it. Violence. So please stopp spreading ignorance, and understand that Islam is a religion of peace and not violence.

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

      More victims.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Terri L

      I am so sorry for your loss. There is no excuse for generilized hatred like this and congress holding hearings only give credibility where there should be none. Peace be with you sister.
      Signed an Infidel who supports you.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • in all fairness

      Sorry for the death of your husband. I dont approve of hate crimes too. Hope for all the best for you and your family.
      But Amirah, do the Islamic terrorists and extremists read a different Quran? Where do they get the hateful ideas from?
      Is there another book they read that makes them so angry towards non believers?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • christian egyptian

      i am very sorry to hear what has happened to your husband. with that said my people are killed everyday for not being muslim. why them, what will be done about that. this is the world, so sorry if people are not gonna cry for you. islam means peace, but that is not what people see across the world from islam.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:39 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.