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. Drew

    Christian radicals seem to have had a more lethal effect upon Americans inside the US in recent years. Then there's the white separatists and other fringe groups who feel opposed to the US government and treat it like a foreign occupation.

    Muslim radicals haven't been that effective in mass murder these recent years compared to those angry at "liberals".

    I see this as another round of McCarthyism. The government has no business regulating religion, but all extremist religions of all stripes are opposed to America's secular civilization. Heck, I heard more than a few Christian preachers tell their followers to separate themselves from the world around them, which is the first step on the path to radicalization.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Khadijah

      I agree with you. Having been a fundi Christian for over 30 years before converting to Islam almost 5 years ago, in retrospect, I feel that Chrisitans are much more damaging in their criticisims of those who do not agree with them than Muslims. My experience with Muslims, especially in the Midwest, is that almost all are very peaceful, very committed to America, and are anxious to raise their children and work in peace. I fear that these hearings will be another witch hunt, as you mentioned. I hope that people realise that they should be writing to their congressmen about these things. It is after all the strength of the American system. All this talk about the Sharia Law is just bunk, because most Muslims I talk to feel that the American government embodies the essential principles of Sharia.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Lyd

    When is America going to stop judging a whole country by the actions of a few? So I am automatically going to think all Americans are illiterate based off of Bush? Stupid right? I know plenty of people who are Muslim and they are really great people. I think some of the ignorant hateful Americans should take notes on respecting other people from some kind Muslims.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  3. American First

    Theodore Roosevelt's ideas on Immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907.
    'In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.'

    Theodore Roosevelt 1907

    March 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  4. gene

    Anxious--GOOD. They can all go to hell, because they'd slaughter all of us without any reason than being non muslim.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  5. borko61

    Lets see...all mooslem countries like saudi arabia iran pakistan and so on have pretty bad record in respect to tollerance of other religion, women rights, gays rights, use of sharia law even coexistence with different branches of islaam.Now when you look through history EVERY country where mooslems were allowed to come they spread and eventually take over pushing other faiths and other people out or just murder them.Ask yourself if that is what you want to happen in USA, if no then stop influx of m00slems from abroad and start thinking about baning that pseudo religion as a whole in here.But if you like it than start protesting these hearings.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  6. proud infidel

    There is no such thing as "islamophobia". It is impossible, since a phobia is a fear that is unfounded. In fact, the term Islamophobia is simply a word of insult used by Muslims to verbally attack non-muslims.

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

      No, a phobia is an exaggerated fear that is usually inexplicable and illogical. A fear that every muslim poses a potential threat is exaggerated and illogical. If these hearings make sense, then we should have hearings about every paranoid white wing nut like Timothy Mcveigh. Oh, but wait, that would half the people in America!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  7. john

    Religious Terrorism is 99% Islamic. There is the odd crazy christian or Jew or hindu but the vast, vast majority is done by muslims screaming alahu akbar.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  8. Muhammad

    WHY DON"T they have rallies like this against EXTREMISM?
    Silence is a sanction.

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

      You're right.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  9. 1mile50

    I know all about nervous. Happens whenever I get on a plane.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  10. Tom

    Spray them all with pigs blood.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  11. HChrist

    To the people who posted: We all bleed the same color. Don't get distracted by the "methods" we all will die some day. It's all a big distraction. Those who rule, rule with every tool... including "religion" (christianity, islam, judism, etc.) Don't be a pawn, love one another, forgive the sin of the lost. GOD will receive us all in the end. PEACE AND LOVE.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  12. FundyTime

    How many more countries does the USA need to invade to prove it's not afraid of Islam. Can we please stop tacking -ophobia onto words to over-simplify issues of importance?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  13. America, Love it or Leave it

    I hear the muslims screaming, but why are they not screraming over what their home countries do to people. It seems that another whining minority has openned their mouths and of course obama sides with them, just as obama always puts muslims in front of christians and it was christian principles that America was founded on NOT MUSLIM. Come clean obama and come clean all muslims, either LOVE AMERICA or LEAVE IT and dont let the door hit you as you leave.

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

      Their home countries? They are Americans. So should German Americans apologize for Hitler? How about all Italian Americans being asked to speak out against mob crimes. Should all Mexican Americans demonstrate about the violence in Mexico? What about Russian Americans? I want them to explain Putin.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • carlosraven

      america is free country to any one ,the most peoples saying bad comment about muslims are mostly white trash so is time we latinos ,blacks and others get united and help muslim peoples of all races and crush this ignorant white trash mentelly we dont need phisical force dont u know why cuz they r too weak to handle us latinos blacks and others

      March 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • The Jester


      You're an idiot. And i am Black.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  14. COLKurtz

    Mohamed makes some good points.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  15. nofoldems

    Fellow Muslims: show the haters they're wrong by your actions. They're not going to be convinced otherwise, as the only examples they see are what's report on the news.

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

      An excellent place to start. Thank you.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  16. illuminated Genius

    The rapid rise of Islam unpopularity in the world was a inevitable event as more people are starting to see the truth. Many of you who don't know, anyone who criticizes Islam or mentions anything regarding muslim radicals in Europe is sentenced to criminal prosecution. This has happened in the Netherlands with Geert Wilders as well in Austria with another policians speaking about issues of Islamisation and radical muslim extremists as well to push for a world wide ban on Sharia laws. The atheists were right people about their criticism of Islam and organized religion. The liberal left and all these multi-faith groups can say all they want, but it does not reflect the realities of what is happening in the real world. There is no such thing as tolerance in Islam as it is intolerance and tolerance only goes one way for Islam and against anything else. These issues have driven to these hearings to be made a reality given so many radical muslim extremists have tried and failed to blow up our airplane airliners, buildings, bomb cities and threaten to blow up cars since 9/11. National security issues is something very important and we have to deal with these issues may they be politically incorrect or not. The truth was bound to come out, we been driven in our society to suppress the truth because it offends people. I am 100 percent against the building of a terrorist victory mosque on ground zero and i feel Americans should vigorously boycott that it be build there in the sense of out of respect for the victims and that to show America will not be conquered by those who want to destroy our way of life. The horrors of Islam for many who don't know since the 7th century has claimed the lives of over 270 million people resulting in their deaths along with the current death rate and destruction that is spread in those who are brainwashed in cult life fashion to kill Americans and any other infidels in the name of Allah. I find also important the law clause of separation of church and state.

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

      Do you think anybody is going to read all this? Keep dreaming...

      March 7, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  17. Ask Not

    If Muslims were perceived as doing everything possible to eliminate the extreme faction in its population, then the alleged "discrimination" problem wouldn't exist. But with the perception that peace loving Muslims silently snicker when the extremists are "successful" in their exploits, praising Allah under their breaths, no real change will occur. Where's the "United Muslim Anti-Extremist Front?" The "Islam Enemies Within Eradication Movement?" Until there is, with results, "discrimination" will continue. Just like a big family with a few bad actors: the entire family is suspect. Take care of your own and quit using technicalities and our own system against us. Until you actively take care of the problem, you are the problem.

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

      “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.

      I have always been frustrated by the deafening silence from the Muslim community in regard to terrorist acts by Muslim extremists. While I have no doubt that the vast majority of American Muslims are patriotic, peace-loving people, they have done very little to make a clear statement denouncing those in their midst who would commit such acts. Why haven't there been these types of protests against the jihadists that tarnish their reputations? Why only when they feel under attack do they take to the streets to proclaim they are being treated unfairly? Didn't they consider the attacks of 9/11 attacks on them as well? I am NOT anti-Muslim, but I think there has been an ambivalence among American Muslims to loudly, forcefully, and unequivocally condemn those who would hurt us.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  18. George

    Some of the faces in the crowd of protesters look very worried. See, they don't want to get thrown out of this great land and sent back to the middle ages, but if they have the wrong connections, that's exactly where they are going.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Martin

      You just assume they're not citizens of the U.S. because they don't fit your image of one. Citizens can't be expelled from their own country!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  19. Joe in Kalispell

    I think the hearing will be both shining a light and turning up the heat. I know individual Muslims on this tread say that Islam is a religion of peace but here is what I have found:

    Allah is an enemy to unbelievers. – Sura 2:98
    On unbelievers is the curse of Allah. – Sura 2:161
    Slay them wherever ye find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. – Sura 2:191
    O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Those of you who make them his friends is one of them. God does not guide an unjust people. – 5:54
    Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme – 8:39
    When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. – 9:5
    Allah has cursed the unbelievers and proposed for them a blazing hell. – 33:60
    Unbelievers are enemies of Allah and they will roast in hell. – 41:14
    When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds, then set them free, either by grace or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. – 47:4
    (different translation: ) When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.
    Those who are slain in the way of Allah – he will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will he guide them and improve their condition, and admit them to the Garden, which he has announced for them. – 47:5

    There is a lot more but this is what Muslims are raised on.

    Face it America we may be on the verge of a world wide religious war.

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

      shrug ... have you ever read the old testament?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • WHAT THE...

      Is this all true? Muslim posters, is this true? Do you believe this? Someone please answer 'yes or 'no'?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  20. Salvador

    Western civilization threw off an ancient, totalitarian religious cult, at the price of many millions of dead over many centuries, (the medieval Catholic Church).
    Do the 100 years war, the 30 years war, the 7 years war, the inquisition, witch hunts, the Reformation sound familiar to most Muslims?
    We don't need to rewind our history and play that game all over again with another ancient cult (Islam).
    Muslims should study European history before thay call us bigots.

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

      Do some research before you speak. During the Medieval Ages, Muslims had one of the most sophisticated systems of welfare, gave women rights that Europe wouldn't until the 1800's, treated POW's humanely, developed Algebra and modern medicine, developed quadrants for astronomy, developed theories of evolutions that Darwin would use, etc. etc.

      Yeah, the Muslims world isn't the best right now but that doesn't mean it was always that way.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • proud infidel

      There is no such thing as "islamophobia". It is impossible, since a phobia is a fear that is unfounded. In fact, the term Islamophobia is simply a word of bigotry and hate used by Muslims to verbally insult non-muslims.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Calvin

      @WickedNorth Muslims at one time also got along well with Christians and Jews. As a Christian, I would love to see it again.

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

      The 100 years war was between England and France, and the 30 years war had Catholics fighting on the side of Protestants sometimes. I wasn't about the people of Europe fighting against the church; it was the monarchs fighting against the church so they could increase their personal power.

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

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