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. Joe in Kalispell

    Look at these pictures and tell me Islam is a religion of peace and love

    March 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Dave

      You realize there are pictures of Jews and Christians doing worse? what does it prove m0ro0n?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • regertz

      Who blew up Oklahoma City's federal building? This is the rankest prejudice to blame innocent fellow citizens for the acts of a few fanatics. And the people doing it would happily target Jewish, Asian-American, Catholic or any group they could, just so long as they can someone defenseless to blame and hate.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  2. Mpandi

    My take: let them present their case, including why they remain quiet about the attrocities in their countries of origin...and let them not abuse the generosity of their adopted country!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • regertz

      You are misinformed. Many have denounced fanaticism. Many fight bravely in our armed forces and we are lucky to have them since so many of us are utterly ignorant of the religion and customs of the countries we have been fighting. These are our fellow citizens who but for a tiny group of nuts have committed no crime. This is rank prejudice and cowardice to demonize them like this.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  3. Roy

    American-Muslims are as American as Mr. King and have nothing to prove to him.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Teufel Eldritch

    Islam... a religion founded by a pedophile & that preaches pedophilia is acceptable. Islam... a religion which preaches women are only worth 1/4 that of a man. Islam... a reilgion that preaches that lying is good as long as it furthers the goals of Islam(al-taqyyia). Islam... a bilght on the world.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • pj


      March 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  5. Katmoondaddy

    I worked for 10 years at a Fortune 50 company's IT department with three (self-proclaimed peaceful) Muslims (one was my manager). My manager told me one day that it was NOT commercial planes that hit the WTC but rather US military planes. Within several hours of the WTC attack, I intercepted e-mail that another Muslim was sharing with his friends. Their content was basically non-synpathetic towards America but rather someething we had been deserving for quite a while. I don't trust ONE Muslime. They love you with their lips but hate you with their heart!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • pj

      WOW, I hope you turned that information in to the FBI, seriously.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  6. ANDY

    its so funny that these three guys are pushing this?

    Mr. King
    Mr. Sullivan
    Mr. Shapiro

    looks like they all related to each other

    March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  7. FABIO

    Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims

    March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • regertz

      What? Tim McVeigh...The Klan blowing up churches...The Red Army brigade...The IRA...The Aryan Nation...Tamil Tigers...Anarchists in the 1920 and 30s in the US...The SDS. Fanatics exist in every group or religion. Punish the criminals.

      By the way, no doubt there is some who hates Fabios and Gertzs for no better reason than our names sound

      March 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  8. ljd

    they can come together to protest "islamophobia", but they couldn't come together and make a joint statement denouncing the attacks on Spetember 11th? Hmmmmm

    March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • regertz

      Many American Muslims denounced 9/11. You are either misinformed or deliberately distorting the facts. As a Catholic American I'm ashamed of this no-knowing, Klansman, Nazish behavior. Criminals should be caught and punished but to target a whole people, our fellow citizens, many of whom fight bravely in our armed forces is utterly disgusting.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  9. michelle

    So when are there going to be hearings regarding the White Supremists, the Neo-Nazis and the KKK? Keep digging that hole Rethugs.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • regertz

      Amen. Who blew up Oklahoma City's federal building? This is the rankest prejudice to blame innocent fellow citizens for the acts of a few fanatics. And the people doing it would happily target Jewish, Asian-American, Catholic or any group they could, just so long as they can someone defenseless to blame and hate.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  10. muhammed joe

    First thing I did when I moved west, converted to christiantiy, then got rid of my name since it was that of a child rapist, then stopped associating with my old "peaceful" Moslem friends that are so bitter that the west is a better life that they convince themselves they hate the west because Allah wants them to. I say to Muslim women, stop pretending you have a place in Islam – you are nothing but a child factory and a dog to Muslim men, believe me, I know how "we" spoke about your place in this world. I say to Muslim men, stop following this false religion of nothing but hate and self worship. Look around, Islam is the only religion that preaches hate of all others as a main tenet of faith.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Allah is another term for Satan.................the anti-Christ.................kill.....kill....kill..........kill the unbelievers........this is a commandment of the Koran.........the book of Satan...............hate....disgust.....violence........it is all written in this so called book...........

      March 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  11. mabear87

    O. Why don't they go after the phony Cnristians in this country, the ones who would wage war in the world? If most Muslims are subject to terrorism, how about Bush, Cheney, that idiot Michelle Bachman,Glenn Beck, and Limbaugh. They are the real terrorists, people with no education and preaching to people who have none either. 99.9% of Muslims are of no danger to the us, but about 40% of our own "Christians" who are not Christians (the Family Research Council) are a real danger to this country. Let's check them out first before we get secular against others.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  12. WDrad

    There is no such thing as a Muslim American.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • mabear87

      There is no such thing as am American like you. You are worse than the NAZIs

      March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • pj


      March 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • regertz


      March 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Peter Gatta

    The Muslim religion still condones and allows violence. Christianity preaches peace. Jews and Buddhists do too. Maybe Muslims will be peaceful in 500 years as Christians finally are.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Fahim Lodhi

      You think Islam supports violence? How much of an idiot do you have to be? You want me to give you examples of non-Muslims who were part of terrorists plots? Lets see the oklahoma city bombing, the bombing of the abortion clinic, the KKK, skin heads and so on. All these groups terrorized minorities in America yet the continue to exist, why?

      Personally I find it disgraceful when you say that Muslims are backwards. As an American Muslim who loves this country like any other AMERICAN, I don't see why you think Muslims can't be good Americans. Muslims proudly serve this country in the Military, are they "terrorists" in your eyes? Muslims proudly serve as doctors, nurses, police officers and so on, are these Muslims "terrorists" in your eyes? I bet you have Muslims in YOUR community who proudly serve their communities, and would gladly give a lending hand to someone in need of help.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  14. Paul Sutherland

    Personally, I just think it's scary when a group that hasn't culterally progressed much beyond the cave-man era also has high-tech weapons.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • HurtfulTruth

      I take it you haven't been to Dubai lately?? They make US look like we're back in the stone age!!

      This is they very type of ignorant, broad-based associations that needs to be addressed and overcome. You have NO idea what you're talking about, because you, like MANY Americans, are only going on what you see on television or hear from conservative media. MEET a few people that belong to that religion and you'll see that you're sadly associating people from MORE areas of the world than Christianity with some desert, stone-hut image you've got in your head!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  15. HR

    IT IS HIGH TIME somebody started investigating the actions of Muslims in this country – their story of being "sweet and loving" is a CROCK – just READ the KORAN and you will easily see what they intend for us and the rest of the non Muslim world – they want to either convert us or wipe us out – it is not just the "radicalised" Muslims, their faith "demands" that they control the world and everyone in it – it is time the truth came to light!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • John

      Correct !!! You can read it for yourself in the online English translations of the Koran.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • HurtfulTruth

      Typical DUMBA$$ – It's Qu'Ran....You're using the same INCORRECT SPELLING as that equally ignorant pastor in Florida who was threatening to burn it.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  16. America up for grabs

    Islam has no intentions of blending in with others, only converting others to Islam

    March 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • regertz

      You can't easily target blacks or Jews and so Muslims are now your target. It's racist and wrong to target a whole people for the acts of a few fanatics. Who was the terrorist at Oklahoma City?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Waldo

      The "terrorist" at OKC was apprehended and convicted. We police our own. There's a lesson in there for the Islamic world. These "few" Islamic terrorists could not thrive without at least the tacit support of the Islamic community.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • rdrock180

      Blah, blah, blah, Tim mcveigh. Your premise is ridiculous! You're really comparing mcveigh who committed his crime because he was anti government not because he was Christian, to Islamist animals who scream Allah Akbar before they blow up or shoot innocents. Take your comments over to the al jazzeera blogs where you'll probably get support.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • regertz

      Bull. This is about targetting innocent fellow citizens who've committed no crime and many of whom fight bravely in our armed forces. It is simply prejudice, based on ignorance. And those Christian fanatics scream "Jesus is Lord"...You can find them among other places at Westboro Baptist Church. Punish criminals who commit crimes.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  17. Edward

    It is a crying shame that this hearing is necessary. Too many Muslims are engaged in violent behavior, so this hearing is held. How I wish it was not necessary.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  18. LiberateUs

    First, Anti-Catholicism. Now, Islam-phobia? What a "GREAT" country this is, not!

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

      You're always free to leave and experience life elsewhere. Unlike some countries, we actually let you do that.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • regertz

      Only a Nazi would pull that garbage...And what a name "STFU"...Does that mean you and a bunch of lynchers will shut up anyone who speaks out? These people have done nothing...Any more than all Christians are responsible for Tim McVeigh. If not Muslims you would go after Jews or blacks or any defenseless group you could find.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Steve

      Islam is the ONLY religion that I know of where they sanction killing non-believers, how can anyone defend that?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • muhammed joe

      I feel sorry for those of my former Islamic brothers. Brothers and sisters, look around. This Islamic religion is the only one in the civilized world that preaches hatred of everyone else. When the Tsunami hit Aceh, Europe and the U.S. were the first ones to bring aid. (I still remember the picture of the imams at the mosque as they watched without caring as their "brothers" were swept away. They were safe, just like when they send us to commit jihad.) People in every church prayed for the flood victims. However, when a catastrophe happens in Europe or the U.S., it is always taught that Allah is punishing them and that we should not thwart his will by helping. What kind of value system is this? I suspect it is the same value system whereby millions of Moslems have sought the shelter and hospitality of western countries (a courtesy not extended to Westerners in our lands), then turned around and complained that they must be allowed to subjugate their women, cover them from head to foot, practice their own laws and not contribute anything to their new societies.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  19. Juil

    Just Google ...Islam Religtion of Peace.. there you will see what Islam is doing around the world. This site keeps track of their terriost acts day to day...

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

      Do they also keep track of terrorist Christian fanatics like McVeigh? You are a coward and a racist to blame a whole people for the acts of a few fanatics.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • muhammed joe

      regertz, I'm afraid that you and others like you are the cowards. Christians everywhere were disgusted by McVeigh and hunted him down like a dog, then put him to death. If he was a Moslem, his picture would hang in half the mosques and most of the markets of the Moslem world. Do you see the difference? Instead of defendng this religion of hate, use your energy to fix it if you must stay in it. Have you publicly rebuked this "small minority" of fanatic muslims cited in your e-mail while at the mosque or is it easier to attack others that have invited us into their homelands, given us shelter from the decadence and stagnation of what we've created and given us freedom that we never had? Are you the coward in this equation?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  20. Ahmed

    I ask every Non-Muslim to actually do a little research about Islam and the word Jihad. Jihad just means Struggle, it is the struggle of improving yourself(the BIGGER JIHAD) and struggle of self-defense(LESSER JIHAD). I would be glad to any questions at questions4ahmed@yahoo.com, Please keep it to actually questions...And you should actually find the truth of Islam, i am sure you will like it.

    Thank You and again any questions email me at questions4ahmed@yahoo.com

    March 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • muhammed joe

      You can stop lying now. I spent half my life in mosques and every dialogue about jihad comes with a reminder or a nod toward the wonderful jihad being waged by people who murder in Allah's name. Many muslims say that it's wrong to kill the innocent, but if you're one of them as was I, they continue by saying "BUT". As in, "BUT" not the jews, not the christians, not the non-believers, etc. Why does the evolution of every civilization lead to an idealization of peace and love except for ours? We've gone down the wrong path long enough. I started by saying you should stop lying and I apologize if you're sincere. However, if your view was sincere you would spend all of your energy and speech writing attacking the maniacs that are the flag bearers for your (and my former) religion. Until this is fixed, all civilized countries should cease to allow Muslims in their country in the same manner that Muslims restrict everyone else's free movement when they're the majority.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Fahim Lodhi

      @mohammed joe

      I don't know what you are talking about. I have friends that are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Agnostic, Buddists, and so on. I wouldn't hurt any of them. The Islam that I know, which is the right Islam, teaches of tolerance, and respect for another persons beliefs, even if they are different from yours. I grew up going to sunday school at my Mosque, and we ALWAYS teach religious tolerance, whether they are Jews, Christians, or belong to some other faith. We ALWAYS invite non-Muslims from every faith to our Mosque, and we are willing to answer ANY questions they may have about Islam. At the university I attend, we always have events where we invited priests, or rabbis to speak about their faiths and how we need to get rid of this hatred towards one another. I've been to Mosques, Churches, and Synaguoges to learn about other faiths, even if they are different from mine. All in all I don't care what faith you belong to, all I care about is if you have a good personality.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Why worship just a messenger boy.............that is who Muhammed was.........a messenger boy that nobody wanted around till this century..............a piece of dust floating in the wind.................words of the anti-Christ........that is Muhammed.......

      March 7, 2011 at 7:31 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.