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. sam

    Remember; not all muslims are terrorists. BUT ALL TERRORISTS ARE MUSLIM !!

    March 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ilene

      I guess you have a short memory–we have homegrown Christian and non-religious terriorists Oklahoma

      March 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Fred

      well said

      March 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • cindogg

      Ileen, first tim mcveigh was an atheist, second why do you liberals defend muslims so vehemently, yet loathe Christians and Joos?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Doug Allard

      exactly sam.
      If the poor little muslims would quit trying to kill everybody... maybe we could put up with 'em

      March 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      Remember the Muslims killed and continue to try to KILL AMERICANS! They are not killing people from Kazahkstan, Ireland, Canada, Iceland or any other country. America needs to stop them, investigate them and throw them out of this country if they are not law-abiding legal residents. The ones who blew up trains in France and England just were not able to get on a plane to the USA.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm |

    I think people like Peter King are a bigger threat to this country than the Muslims, the Mormons, Westboro Babtist, and the Catholics combined.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      Congratulations! You jut won a free ticket to HELL!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |

    All religions are the Root of All Evil

    March 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      OK, people. We have another Free Ticket to Hell Winner! Congratulations!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. viewthis

    The problem is this you got all these thug rappers that are associated with islam by choice but were only recruited opposed to islam from differant countrys where people migrated to america with islamic roots you gotta separate the peaceful islamists from the none people see all these rappers give islam a bad name then they demonize all islam. kick the radicals islamists rappers out and people like luis farrakhan who are just preaching hate were ever they go.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  5. Cherish Marie

    I can't believe that everyone in here is actually an adult!? I have read a lot of responses and many have been in the realm of believing that Muslims, not some, not the radicals, but Muslims as a whole are a problem. Which leads to believe that many are not shocked at all by the open blasting and hating of a large portion of our culture. Need I remind many that the United States is comprised of many cultures and religions and it is our principle to accept the religion and freedoms of our countrymen. The horrible things that Muslims do, and what they do in other countries, and all the horrible attrocities that many of you think is what being Muslim is about is exactly what is fueling these hearings to point out and criticize a whole sub culture of our country. The horrible actions of a few are the actions that stand out, but that does not mean for a second that those horrible actions represent a whole culture. I am seeing that in so many people's posts and it blows my mind. Regardless of whether or not one likes Muslims, or their religion, or religion in general, we should all be angry that our government is calling one of the largest subgroups in American culture radicalized, and that they are having congressional hearings about this. The words of many on here seem to indicate that the less tolerant amoung us would just revel in a chance to be allowed to be Islamaphobes, because the government is for once openly initiating it. Instead of saying that Muslims are horrible people, because that is what our bias of the time is telling us to do, one should see that our neighbors are freaking out and are fearful of what this could mean for their culture, and the impending racism from their peers. Grow up a bit.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  6. damn yank

    why does the media insist as depicting all muslims as dark skin and foreign....

    don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong w/being a dark skin or foreigner....but it's almost as if the media's purposely trying to make it so that the typical american thinks muslims are of a different race....

    i was born american. white pale skin, deep blue eyes....my son has blonde hair looks 100% Caucasian....yet we are muslim...

    islam is not a race...it is a religion. a choice we make on how to worship god. the same god that Abraham prayed to, the same god that Moses prayed to, the same god that Jesus prayed to.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  7. allahhelpusall

    WHY THE HECK IS THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT GIVING MUSLIMS GREEN CARD to live in the STATES? While there are a lot of other people fighting for their life in this country. When Muslims stop prosecuting other people and when they stop spreading violence, then we will accept them. Until then, no way to abdullah. And stop comparing the Christian Knights during the holy war (first off, it's unholy), they were never Christians in the first place, they worked for the poop, I mean pope/vatican. If Muslims really love this country then they would protect their non-muslim neighbors. The Christians put their life down and even to death they were faithful and never blamed the muslims for anything. They are the ones who practiced true forgiveness based on faith in God.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  8. Asch13

    Does freedom to worship however you want trump the rights of women? There are more than just a few million muslims who believe strongly in shiria law; which I would think that on women's rights alone this would not be supportable in a Western society.
    I don't hear Christians or Jews trying to defend people like the White Surpremists, Timothy McVeigh, etc.; at least not in the millions. Where is the outrage in the Muslim community when the so called radical factions do these incredibly cruel things; like beheading people, killing wives, daughters, on and on.
    Tell you what, if you are a woman go toSaudia Arabia and walk around dressed in normal western garb like shorts; if you are a guy take your wife, girlfriend, mother, and try to have them live as they do here; dress as they please, drive, use make up,etc.
    I have no doubt that muslims believe as strongly in their religion and way of life as I do mine. The brutal reality is that the muslim belief system and way of life is in conflict with the western way of life. They believe as strongly that we need to be converted as any christian believes they should convert everyone. The question is; can Western civilization as we define it in the US tolerate a group that clearly surpresses and victimizes a very large portion of their citizens, namely women; but also gays and Oh almost forgot Christians!

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

      Actually Shariah supports Woman's Rights. Its just that many Muslims practice their culture which may be anti-Woman rights and not their religion. People in the west then confuse this as Shariah bans woman's rights, when in truth Woman have more rights than men in Islam.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Cassandra

      Shariah can be said to be supportive of womens' rights only if viewed in the context of 7th century Arabian mysogony.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  9. GPS

    Guilty people usually are guilty be hearings!!

    March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  10. Amanda

    So much for religious freedom and tolerance. Did everyone forget the Oklahoma bombings? What about Columbine? Or how about the daily on goings of gang violence? Aren't these matters of national security too? We are condemning the whole community of Muslims for something a few radicals did and thinking with emotion, not reason. Let's be educated about one another, instead of lynching and coming from a place of hate and ugliness.

    How funny is it the religious tolerance was a cornerstone the United States was founded on, yet we forget about that when we want to condemn people and continue stereotypes. Fundamentalism isn't just a Muslim issue, but a Christian and Jew one too. Don't believe everything you see in the news...

    March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  11. viewthis

    radical islam seems to be most dangerous amongst radical black islam like luis farrakhan the most dangerous man to live.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  12. joe

    Complaining about Muslims...while u have ur own Christan protesting at ur funerals.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Cassandra

      Are you suggesting that the overwhelming majority of Americans are supportive of that nut job and his group?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • John

      At least those Christians who are protesting at Funerals are only protesting. Imagine if they did something more radical, like blow themselves up for instance, now that would be scary...

      March 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • cindogg

      christians? oh please it's one rogue fake family "church" nice try libtard

      March 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      Those "Christians" are all going to hell. There are only about 30 of them in that alleged church and they are all in-bred family members. Can you say "Deliverance"?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  13. Sandra LeVin


    March 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Sandra.....I do believe you spelled peace and A$$ wrong............

      March 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  14. William B.

    Interesting that they're concerned about radicalization and stereo typing. Perhaps if – since it's such a peaceful, tolerant religion – all of them got up off of their collective asses and made lots and lots of loud noise in support of the U.S. and issuing fatwas against all of the radicals and condeming them for what they've done to Islam, and in put some serious money into hiring some P.R. firms to really get the message out ... maybe then, people would actually think they gave a crap about how their faith has been completely hijacked by the growing radical/fanatical movement. Instead they're just a collective bunch of sheep and are a much larger part of the problem then in aiding in a solution. They've all sat on their butts since 911 barely making a squawk.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  15. viewthis

    From my perspective it is radical islamist like luis farrakhan. The rest seem peaceful but that luis farrakhan sure is using his seat to radicalize the world. They should kick luis farrakhan out of america hes just a instagator. never seen a man more radical then Luis farrakhan. Just look up the name Luis farrakhan on Youtube and listen to his speeches no wonder the world wants to demonize islam look at Luis farrakhan evil.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  16. wyominguy

    Look...its Real Real SIMPLE...they want it both ways....not going to happen. Get rid of the radicals and bingo people will Not be bothered by them. It gets tiring hearing the Muslims whine and tell how peace loving they are and yet they do NOTHING to eliminate the radical element.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  17. Blue Eyed Angel

    My concern is that they are trying to bring Sharia Law to America – why – didn't you leave a country that practiced that law and didn't like it – why would you try to bring it here? We are happy the way America is – if you came here to change it – then you came with the wrong motiviation. You should come here because you love American values and want to be part of our country. There is nothing wrong with practicing the peaceful part of your Muslim religion but don't try to change America – it was built on Christian Values. We used to encourage the "Melting Pot Theory" you came to America to become American – learned to speak English – loved America – became American – not like it is now – we are a country of little communities....I hope this gets worked out without getting to ugly...

    March 7, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • nick2

      And how do you think that could happen? There are 400 million Americans of whom only 3 milllion are Muslims?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Nacho1

      I don't believe our ladies would like to live under THEIR kind of law................that would set back women's rights to the beginning of time!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • aq

      I hope you people realize that the heinous acts perpetrated on women in the name of Islam is completely and utterly against the doctrines of Islam. In fact, women are quite esteemed in Islam. In its early times, Islam was the first one to allow women to own property as well be guaranteed inheritance from her father. Most women, who wear the traditional garments, decide to do it out of their own accords, sadly this is seen by the western world as an abuse of power by the religious state, NOT THE CASE. Granted, these women might be harassed should they choose not to, but that is a cultural issue, not a religious one to be blamed on Islam.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  18. josephus

    I support Rep. King on this and so do many Muslims.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • cindogg

      I support King on this too! If most muslims are peaceful as the left insists, then why are they opposing this?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  19. Teenage Activist

    McCarthyism, anyone?

    March 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Teenage Activist

      Are we incapable of learning from our past, or are we just forgetful? This is going to end up like the hearings against Communists. Innocent people are going to suffer because someone's playing the blame game again.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Get them out of my country and have them take their explosives and weapons with them....and by the way....maybe they should take a few american teenagers with them too!

      March 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Not McCarthyism

      Communists did not do anything in our country. It is nothing like Communism. All Communism was, was a fear of our government being replaced with one that actually required its citizens to work. Radical Islam wants to destroy our generations of progress, and murder or enslave everyone who is not a Muslim. They are in no way the same. Moreover, Communists NEVER attacked America, and NEVER killed American civilians on a mass level. Obviously, there was 9/11 and there have been 1000s of ATTEMPTED TERROR ATTACKS since 9/11 in the name of Islam. Islam is a real threat, and not a conspiracy. Look at Germany last week. This is NOT McCarthyism. Radical Islam is a problem, the biggest single threat we've had to our country since the British in 1812, and even then all they wanted was to make us pay taxes. Radical Muslims want you dead.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      But the Communists never took over America after the McCarthy Hearings. The hearings worked. Same result will follow here. All BAD MUSLIMS will be found out.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  20. luis04191

    There are many ways of loosing our rights. Denying anyone the freedom to worship is one of them. We already have Satan worshipers, what's the problem with Muslims? If a house of worship is used for any illegal/harmful activities let them be dealt with according to the law. The first integral part that any religion and house of worship has to comply with is renouncing any violence against the citizens and government of this nation. These complied with what is the problem? Freedom of religion! No American should be bullied into believing otherwise. Love, Peace God bless

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

      What's the matter with muslims? Seriously Luis? Do you want all the things wrong or just the top 1,000 things?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Randy

      Nobody is denying Muslims the right to worship in America.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Larry Lupus

      When's the last time a Satan worshipper flew a plane into a building. Your an idiot

      March 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      Let's count how many Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Greek Orthodox, Buddhists, Pentacostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Wicckans, animists and all other religions caused the 9/11 tragedies. It's 10 years after! WAKE THE Hell UP you bleeding heart liberal idiot! These people are dangerous and scary. Let's investigate them and get it done with. It's 10 years too late already. Stop twisting the plan to your agenda. Rep. King wants to find the BAD MUSLIMS in the USA, not ALL MUSLIMS! GW BUSh dropped the ball on this 10 years ago and never investiagted this.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Ben

      Americans. So quick to impose your morals and sense of fairness & equality on the world, but so quick to forget it at home...

      Do you really believe all Muslims are radical? Do all Christians wear white cloaks and hoods, or protest the funerals of soldiers? You can't judge all people by the tiniest minority – if you could, it would pretty safe to assume all Americans are uneducated, xenophobic racists, who don't own a passport but feel they can weigh in on cultures other than their own...

      March 7, 2011 at 8:07 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.