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. Muslins and Christians Join Hands

    Christians should be actively protesting against pedophiles in the church world wide with the Muslins protesting against terrorists world wide together united in God. Personally, I do not know which is worse pedophiles or terrorists because both are sneaky and enemies of God!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  2. mohamed

    islamphobia is trying to put fear in our heart but will not fear your islmicphobia U.S.A is our belove country and we chose islam to be our faith either you like it or not sorry.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  3. Fig1024

    It would greatly help the Muslim cause if they stopped dressing up their women in burkas and started treating women as real people.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tim

      Then Catholic nuns shouldn't wear habits. What about the thousands of domestic abuse cases in which women are beaten? Should we have a hearing on the radicalization of WASPS?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Tim

    Am I the only one here that sees this is the same thing that Nazi Germany did with the Jews in the 1930's? Maybe McCarthy in the Red Scare?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  5. heila

    My parents are muslims (secular muslims) but I am not. I've never liked islam. Islam is a religion of brutality and death.islam doesn't have any respect for human rights specially women rights. I hare this religion so much taht even sight of a mosque makes me sick. hate that sound of Quran chanting. I just hate it.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  6. Jayb

    how come the only time i ever see muslims kick and scream is when they feel they are being personally antagonized. i never see outcries from muslims over anything other than islamic issues and israel hate fests.

    wnhy dont muslims come out and protest for teachers in nyc, surely they know whats going on with bloomberg and education, or just any issue that doesnt have to do with their own personal islamic bubble.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  7. Ken


    March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Ken

      This is how they're taking over.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      OH NO! IT'S THE BOOGYMAN!!!!...

      March 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  8. Jimbo

    Why are these boards so messed up all the time? How come CNN can't post the comments in order by time they were posted?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  9. Tom

    Wouldnt it be nice if one day technology could make us a global community and idiots would stop feeling compelled to force their beliefs on others? Until then we have what we have now, and like it or not there's plenty of evidence the muslim community will harbor terrorists. Sorry, nothing about freedom means we have to wait around to be attacked. Dont like it? Plenty of Muslim countries out there to move to, dont let the door hit you on the way out.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  10. ReligionCreatesWar

    Seriously, religion is worthless. Islam and Christianity and the likes are nothing more than a fear tactic to control large bodies of people, i.e., society. Got news for you "muslim-americans", We will never accept your religion and the number of atheists here in the US far out number Muslims and Christians combined. The world will never be at peace until we rid our political systems of religion. We love America to much to let it end up like the middle east. I mean seriously, look at it... You guys can't even share power or make educated decisions without bringing "GOD" into things.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Although, I agree that church and state need to be seperate (I myself am Catholic), to say that religion is worthless is both ignorant and bigoted. Both Mohammed and Jesus lived were very saintly people that are rolemodels for billions today. The problem is, many of their "followers" sought to take advantage of their message for their personal gain. Then they took their words out of context to suit their needs and then brainwashed many of their people. Religion doesn;t neccessarily corrupt. Corrupt people corrupt religion.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  11. LauraJ

    I have no problems with Muslim Americans, who are our neighbors here in Michigan, and good ones at that. Can we, however, change the womans sign to American Muslim? It gets at the heart of the issue.
    American first, what ever else you are is secondary.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  12. Mary

    Is Mr. King also inviting relatives of those murdered by Timothy McVeight in Oklahoma to the hearings?

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

    look whos pushing this? whats wrong with this picture?

    Mr King
    Mr Sullivan
    Mr Shapiro

    are they all related?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Lady Di

    You mean to tell me these Muslims who live here are demonstrating against this bill, BUT they won't lift a finger or protest in the streets when an American is killed by an Muslim terrorist???? You never even hear a peep from them, which says to me they are condoning it. They live by their koran to kill all infidels-which is us. It's no wonder the dead silence we hear when an American is murdered!! So until that day comes that they will protest that, I hope we make even stronger laws against them, and take back our pride in America & stop worrying we're going to hurt "their" feelings-ugh. It's the old saying, if you don't love it, leave it & go back from whence you came.............No one will ever tell me how to love my country!!

    March 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  15. Reality

    Unless they go to Hooter's and eat pork ribs they are racist.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  16. Ken

    Muslims should not be in America.

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

      lol funny muslim is faith not people what about if your father become muslim should you leave to? where to?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Spoken like a true Nazi.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Reggie

      Do you know any muslims Ken?
      If you'd like to, let me know.
      We can eat tacos sometime, or maybe go bowling?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  17. ljd

    how come they didn't "galvanize" against the attacks on September 11th??? I don't recall seeing a joint statement from "muslimericans" denouncing anything.....

    March 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  18. efffie

    We are helping these people destroy us from within by giving them the rights our Christian citizens should have. We best be on our knees and pray that God will show people what is really happening. We will not be allowed to have our beliefs or our rights for long if people do not wake up.

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

      You'll be on your knees alright but God won't be listening, we need to figure this problem out on our own.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • SCOTO

      How about for example Jewish and atheist Americans. Are we out in the cold as well?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Nancy

      When the Chancellor of Germany and the PM of Great Britain say that "Multiculturalism has failed"
      these Americans who are worried about Muslims in their homeland America, have something of a justification.
      This isn't about racism, or anything else you can use to keep your foot in our door.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      I wish you had been alive to see what happened to Adolf Hitler.

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

      This 'Christian citizen' talk smacks of jingoistic civic religion to me, and not so much of Christianity. Jesus denied political allegiances and affirmed the outsiders, the religious minorities as neighbors to love (see story of Good Samaritan). Christianity is not at all concerned about national allegiances and protecting our rights at the expense of others. When did Jesus ever assert his own interests by alienating a minority? Rather: He 'who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.' (Phil. 2) Check the America-centrist, ethnocentric-privilege-affirming ideology at the door with all other idolatries.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  19. Mark

    When I think of all that has happened in the past 10 years and how much was linked to people who identified their religion as Muslim.

    I think one way for the Muslims in the United States to differentiate why they are also American would be to publicly display their outrage after some of these events. I have yet to see a large demonstration held by Muslims protesting the violence committed by other Muslims. If you believe these Muslims terrorist are wrong.... why aren't you out there denouncing their actions.

    If you really are an American, or even human, you would be outraged by the beheading of another human being. When are the Muslims in this country going to protest against the actions of other Muslims? Let me know the time and date and I will stand with you as you protest the outrageous actions committed in the name of Muhammad.

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

      fox news or media control you head you cant see what's going on

      March 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Dave

      @Mark, there ahve been huge demonstrations of thousands and thousands of Muslims denouncing the terrorists. You sound like those who in the 1950's pointed out that 98% of the major spies against the US for the Soviets were all Jews without noting most Jews decried that just as the massive majority of American Moslems have and do denounce Al Qaeda. Moslem Ameircan groups have denounced Al Qaada as has virtually every Moslem American cleric

      So what you mean is: "The news outlets I watch don't cover Muslims denouncing terrorism and therefore in my trailer park, through my prejudice, I don't see it therefore it doesn't exist."

      March 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • HadEnuffYeti

      AMEN... Although we are all half-brothers and half-sisters we have the same father. Unite in the cause of denouncing those who perpetrate and perpetuate violence in the name of a sacred faith. God, Allah, Yahweh is one in the same and the sooner we learn this the closer we can all become to knowing His truth.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Muslims in America are outraged by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. You just refuse to listen to them and blame them for your ignorance.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • S Miller

      Mark, I couldn't agree with you more, and Mohammad, quit the nonsense, that doesn't work. Doesn't your religion forbid lying? Maybe not, regardless, Fox doesn;t hide anything, they arent the ones the flew passenger planes into tall buildings, so take responsibilties for your crimes.

      If we all take the time to read about "Mohamme the Prophet", we will all understand what kind of man he really was and explains this movement today. It is very disturbing. he was no Jesus Christ that is for sure.

      All the comments here should tell tell you Mohammed that truth transcends lies. You may even believe them yourself, but in front of a loving God there will be no excuse.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Jim

      you want to know the answer? because most american muslims do not even identify themselves with the radical terrorists. They dont feel that they need to demonstrate against it because their not even a part of it..Did catholics in america protest against hitler because he was a christian? Not really. Im a catholic but my dad is a first generation muslim. He doesnt go out and protest just becase hes a muslim. What your saying is that all muslims should go and protest against terrorists..why? are all muslims teorrists? no.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Rodney

      You are absolutely correct. You can't have it both ways. The muslim community denies that these terror acts actually occur, and that they are against them. Then they want to be allowed all the bennifits of freedom. I do belive in rights for all people regardless of color or religion. To be totally honest I believe relgion is the worst thing on the earth. It has caused the most death and suffering by far than all of humans differences put together. It is so obsurd. Since there are no gods. its all bull. People just can't accept that when you die, it all over. Reallity is abig pill to swallow. It won't really matter in afew million years when the sun expands and engulfs the earth.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Derek

      God forbid a Muslim actually post saying that they disapprove of al qaeda, no, instead we have Mohamed saying the media controls our head, and Dave and Patrick who aren't even muslim, speaking on behalf of muslims. without a shred of evidence.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  20. mohamed

    U.S.A stand for free country not christian country.

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

      Yep, free for muslims to invade and destroy

      March 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • rinaldo

      Please name one Moslem country where other religion can worship in peace?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Diane

      Nor does it mean a MUSLIM country.....and just looking at the UK, I feel that Muslims will not rest until they can establish Shariah law in the US. And I, for one, will not just set back and allow that to happen. I am for keeping religion out of the government and law. And I am for you being whatever faith you choose, but I draw the line at using the Islamic faith to defend one's actions in American Courts or giving Muslims the right to form their own version of our government.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • John

      Mohamed, you must proud to live in a Free country. So how about your muslim brothers in the other countries, don't you want them to live Free. Why don't you and other muslims in this Free country protest the crimes against humanity in other muslim countries. Stonning women, killing non-muslims and terrorizing other human beings for no reason, if this is not islam all about, you and other muslims in this Free country should protest these crimes. If you are proud of freedom of religion in this great country, you should protest other muslim countries where non-muslimes including women and children get slaughtered in their churches.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:50 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.