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. epete

    There is no need for Muslims to come to America. There are 27 countries that are Muslim...why not pick one of those to immigrate to? Why come to a western country, alien to your religion and culture. Clearly, Muslims granted citizenship cannot be trusted...the doctor at Ft. Hood who turned into a mass murderer in the name of Islam, the inept Pakistani granted US citizenship who tried to bomb Times Square...and the Iman who wants the ground zero mosque who made his money as a slumloard in Patterson New Jersey racking up massive violations while taking Section 8 cash from taxpayers...these are your Muslims granted US citizenship. You want to be accepted as an American?,,,Sure, when hell freezes over.

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

      In response to "There is no need for Muslims to come to America" Why dont you guys get your sheit and get the hell out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi and any other Islamic country where you send your fools and where you are unwanted. Get the hell out of their then we can talk about us not coming to your fine country!!

      March 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Mel

      What I can't figure out is why the Jewish American's don't stand up and stop being so politically correct. From birth Muslims are taught to HATE Jews and of course Christians. Why aren't more Jewish people in the U.S. in the media pleading with American's to open their eyes and see this false religion for what it is? HATRED.

      March 7, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • LaiqC

      Another shining example of partially formed thoughts and half-baked arguments. The comment section on CNN really reflects the lowest common denominator of the American psyche – paranoia.

      March 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • jamilahk

      I was born in this country and grew up in a Christian family, and I decided to convert to Islam as an adult. This is my country, the country my grandparents chose when they headed for Ellis Island. My sons were also born here. Where should we go?

      March 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Siyajkak

      you sir, are very un-American. how does that make you feel? this country that you're so proud of, so willing to protect, and here you are throwing its core values into an incinerator! FREEDOM OF RELIGION a**h**e. you think those guys are bad, what about all the homegrown criminals we have? the Christians protesting soldiers funerals, neo-Nazis, your run of the mill murderer or corrupt priest! 99% of these people came to America for its better job market, political freedom, and the tolerance that we apparently lie about having. there is no more reason to deport Muslims than there is to deport every race but Native Americans (in fact i think their case is a far better one). and boo on y'all who claim all muslims are raised on hate! ould they have looked for jobs in America if they hated Christians and Jews? in America at least, it seems to be the opposite, Christians can't help but hate Muslims. I'm a proud Christian, but i also admire much about Islam and the Muslim people!

      March 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  2. Jim

    Why not just wait and see what information comes out in the hearings?

    March 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • rs1201

      I guess muslims are afraid of what's going to come out at those hearings.
      9/11 did not happen in a vacuum. These 19 murderers had a great deal of financial and physical help locally...and no American can forget that. All the terrorist attempts since 9/11 have been bloody and not a word from the muslim community condemning those acts...instead what we saw were arabs jumping for joy at the success of the 9/11 attacks. Arabs in New Jersey were arrested after staging a disgusting celebration of the 9/11 attacks. There has not been a single incident where the muslim community has stepped up to the plate and done something redeeming for America or Americans. They can never be trusted and that's the simple truth. I don't hate them nor do I wish them ill...I just don't trust them!

      March 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  3. want justice .. but in fairness you can not be

    let ..see..incident... Christian community in Pakistan, iran, iraq, egypt ... think about it ....

    March 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  4. jnemesh

    I distrust ANY person who has the arrogance to proclaim that his or her god is the one true god. When a religion makes 2/3 of the earth's population "infidels", how are we supposed to respond? This isnt just a problem with Muslims though. There are plenty of Christians who feel the same way, and I am just as wary of them, if not more.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  5. pkfops

    We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.

    "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

    March 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  6. randome

    I am sick of tired of muslim haters using stupid tactics to bring down people. there are radicals in every ethnic or racial group. USA is a country of rule of law and freedom of speech (even if it is hate speech). you break the law you pay whoever you are. why are we having this conversation. 2012 is coming the republicans try to find a goat so that build a momentum. they got the short wallblame the muslims. it's old one Mubarak and Benali kept saying that until people threw them out. get over it muslims have been here for generations they will stay and grow they are peaceful and there is nothing you can do about it.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  7. Upperhand

    There is only the Jesus Christ of the bible. Christianity predates the false religion of Islam by 700+yrs.

    Matt 10:34-36 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-i­n-law against her mother-in-­law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.­"

    John 15: 5-6 "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. "

    Matt 22:11-13 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless­. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

    March 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  8. JR

    Muslims do nothing to stop their extremist counterparts. 107 anti Muslim attacks in 2009 in the US? THAT'S NOTHING> there were 250 anti-Semitic attacks IN SWEDEN in 2009. Guess who the vast majority of those responsible were? Yep, Muslims.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  9. Jim

    If they really were so peaceful they would embrace the hearings to come forward and have their say and show us all that they are a group of peaceful people who are being lumped together with just a few. The real truth is that are working behind the scenes to move the USA toward the Muslim nation they want.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  10. Joseph

    So is it me, or do most of the people who reply to these things not know how to spell? I think you should learn to spell before you voice an opinion, just because it gives you more credibility. You all seem like a bunch of uneducated individuals that have nothing better to do, if you can't spell.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  11. lukah

    can you blame us for being phobic? seriously, no other religion , is so violent, prone to murder, suicide bombing, haught hatred, torture, and annihilation of anything that's non-muslim. Remember Fort Hood, TX? you live amongst us but you revert to such extremism...and you wonder why we are not trusting...

    March 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. MO

    Why we all talk about muslims ? is it because some of them are applying the Koran exactly as it does spell in order to convert the whole world into Islam. Have we forgotten the massacre of 13 serviceman last year by a fellow Doctor who was a Muslim. I think America shold woek very hard to protect itself otherwise it will be run by sharia law very soon.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  13. Chris F.


    You are an idiot to say all terrorist are Mulim. Do a search on "Oklahoma City Bombing" then get your facts correct. I am not a fan of muslime either but this is a secular nation. Mr. King needs to expand his hearing for all religious extremists and not a blind eye because he is a Christian..

    March 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  14. JC

    Islam is a dangerous cult with very little redeeming value. To ingore the core doctrine of Islam....to kill, convert, or subjugate all non-Muslims...is a dangerous and naive fallacy. The sooner we get past the idea that it's "just another religion" and realize the threat, the sooner we can develop a strategy to defeat it.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  15. living proof

    Jesus sets the captive free 🙂

    March 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  16. Doug Allard

    Phobia... I'd like to stick my foot up your @$$.
    You seek to encourage yourselves and those like you, by calling it Islamaphobia when the truth is... I'd just like to beat the crap out of a few of you... just for fun.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Al

      I agree with you.. A phobia is to fear something..We don't fear these people..We just don't like them..

      March 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  17. Billy

    Anti Muslims are the same as anti-Semites and anti-Catholics?
    No. Anti-Semites and anti-Catholics are the only friends Muslims have infact.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Catalina

      Ouch! Heil Hitler!

      March 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  18. Duane

    Farrakhan a strong Imman in United States has been preaching hatred for many decades against anyone who is not Muslim. We have been listening for decades about this hate. Meanwhile Muslims do not condemn Farrakhan hatred speeches. Then Muslims wonder where Islamophobia is coming from. Just listen to Muslim hatred speeches and radical Islams killings. Muslims really are peaceful as they claim they are they need to stand up and publically condemn these radicals. But all I hear is silence from the Muslim community. I challenge any Muslim to stand up and condemn Farrakhan for his hatred towards Jews. You can start on this forum.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Templar1

    Wonderful! So when, and to which Moslem country can I go to protest against "Christianaphopia". Right, I'd either be shot or tortured.

    "And who do men say that I am?"

    You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Duane

      Could you be using the Christian government member in Pakistan that was just murdered as an example?

      March 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  20. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Those of you who say that "Muslims shouldn't be in this country" need to explain what policy they would advocate to get the Muslims out of this country. I'm hearing people list various reasons as to why they feel Muslims being here is a problem. But what I'm not hearing is people list various solutions they would put into effect to deal with the problem. Let's say there is a Muslim family living somewhere in your town. What do you think should be done about them?

    March 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • utahsang

      Nothing should be done to Muslim family living anywhere. But some people including the so called moderator of this forum have closed there eyes to the reality of radical muslims who have in recent years have committed or tried to commit dozens of attacks in the united states not to mention thousands around the world.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Joe

      Its fear. It doesn't have rational thought or solutions or even a grasp of the problems. It pure unrestrained emotion. The only thing you will get is reactionary responses. How do you think the actions of others can be tied to a whole (labeled) group. How do you think that hypocrisy goes on unabated in the minds and discussions of those paralyzed by fear.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:06 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.