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. Matt

    Maybe these same Muslims would like to give their opinion on the following:

    59 Christian churches and 28 homes burned to the ground in Ethiopia in the past week by Muslims. Thousands of Christians imprisoned, tortured, and killed around the world by Muslims. Muslim extremists attacking our nation, suicide bombing churches in Egypt, killing school children hostages... the list goes on.

    And they want to complain about their feelings getting hurt in the good ol' U.S.A? They want to impose Sharia law on us "infidels", but they want some tissues to dry their tears when we want to check them a little closer at airports instead of grandma Smith?

    When does this nonsense end?

    March 8, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  2. Jay

    Why don't I see this type of protests from theses people when Muslim terrorists are beheading our soldiers, burning down churches and blowing up anything related to the west?

    March 8, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  3. Had Enough

    I am tired of cowing down to muslims for fear of offending or radicalizing them. I don't like your religion and messed-up culture I am REALLY sick of your @#$&*# terrorism! We might as well stand up for our principles, because tolerance isn't working... it just gets exploited.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  4. BH

    If you wish to be a muslim, then GO to a muslim country. You are not wanted in the U.S. Your twisted logic and sinister behavior is not wanted. Go... We need to continue passing laws against sharia.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  5. Amy

    I am a Christian and I beleive what my God says written in the Bible through the prophets. Yes muslims will try to rule the world but if it happens it will be very very brief. They will get in line with the Anti-Christ who will definitely rule the world. They have no idea what they are getting into. Everything has to happened according to what God has planned for us. Because in the end.... Jesus will rule the world. Yes!! Good will conquer Evil!

    March 8, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  6. George

    Islamic radicals, and those who silently support them, made a huge mistake attacking the United States, a huge mistake.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  7. George

    Bravo to Congressman King for his bravery and patriotism. Islam is a danger in every part of the world. Hardly a day goes by without hearing of another suicide bombing of innocent people. They call it a fringe element of the religion, but when you see crowds of tens of thousands of maniacal Muslims chanting "Death to America", it can hardly be called fringe. These same people you see in the streets of New York protesting the hearings, were also in the streets of New York and New Jersey on 9/11/01, but they weren't protesting, they were dancing.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  8. Qularkono

    it is very strange and disturbing to me that all the time that the Islamic extremists have been "giving" Islam a bad name through their acts of terrorism ... most Muslims have been very very quiet. But now, when Congress wants to talk about the extremists the Muslims are up in arms to defend their reputation .....

    far too little, and far too late ... and very telling about what is truly important to them ... what they truly believe is right and wrong.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Paco

      If they are Americans and want to work within the system instead of trying some Sharia law nonsense, we should support their right to speak out and their right as citizens to work within the system or at least try to.

      They might not have enough money to bribe enough politicians to get anything done in their favor, though.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  9. Manish

    WHY IS THERE NO DEMOCRACY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES ? This answers everything. Can any muslim justify it please ?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • Paco

      There's no democracy here either. Our government has been subverted. I don't know why they don't just destroy the Constltution and rewrite everything their way instead of constantly breaking the law and working against the interests of the majority of American citizens.
      Then, once they've enshrined their greed and viciousness into a new national docu-ment, they can operate openly and maybe even honestly for once in their twisted lives.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Lee Oates

      Because the US and other colonial states have systematicly destroyed any attempt by 3rd world countries to run their own governments. The people have been repressed by Dictators that we have chosen, their resources stolen and poverty of the people enforced for the benefit of large corporations (largely oil). We are the problem, they are the victims.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • Tomislav

      Turkey is a democratic Muslim nation.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  10. brad

    people of all religions will be persecuted. but in the US only Muslims are being systematically vilified. conservatives speak with knowledge of all Muslims evil intent in a ridiculously programmed manner because the voting block that is the lowest common denomonater responds to blood thirst. hating Muslims has been good business for the Right.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  11. april

    Why do they call it IslamoPHOBIA? A phobia is an unreasonable fear. Being afraid of muslims in this era is quite reasonable. Anyway, I don't want their religion affecting our culture here. Every culture that is heavily influenced by that religion is a disaster. Our culture is heavily influenced by Christianity and it's been doing great until recently. and recently we've been turning away from Christianity. Seems like as along as we focus on Christian ideals, we do just fine. That shouldn't surprise anyone really. Christianity was begun by Jesus, a peace-loving rabbi who sacrificed his own life for all of us. And Islam was founded by a guy who raided merchant caravans, invaded cities and killed his own people to advance his empire. Over the years, many Christians, including Popes, have chosen to serve themselves rather than sacrifice themselves. But those who sincerely follow Jesus always bring us back on track. Those who sincerely follow the muslim prophet only kill and destroy.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  12. Lee Oates

    The US is entering another "McCarthy era" only the new victims are Islamics. It will reinforce the current Islamaphobia so loved by the right-wing nuts of Ameria, and the Republicans will play it to the max for the fear vote. The whole thing is bogus. The reality is that a team of CIA trained and funded operatives, mostly from Saudi Arabia, went rouge and destroyed the twin towers. Because of that the right-wing have encouraged americans to hate 1.2 billion Muslums to gain in advantage in future elections. This, at its best, is totally unamerican behavior, and resembles a modern form of lynching.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • lskfls

      I hate to say it, but I would prefer that to ending up like Canada and much of Europe, having their way of life hi-jacked. I don't like Islamic culture and don't want it here. If that makes me a bigot I guess I am guilty as charged.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  13. megoatee

    All these Islamic criminals and terrorists go to heaven for blowing up innocent people? If thats the case, hell would trualy be a safe place to be! It seems to me that the Muslims have got the heaven and hell mixed up.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • sun

      These people have their concepts mixed up. You can't kill people and got heaven. According to Islam, killing one person is like killing all of mankind. (the word used is person, not Muslim). and saving one PERSON is like saving all of mankind. these terrorists kill innocent people everyday. (including children). How could any God/Allah reward people who destroy His creation? Instead such people will be in the deepest pits of hell. Are they dreaming of virgins? Wait till they see whats in store for them. I, as a Muslim, cannot wait for them to get their rewards.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  14. justamerican

    If the Muslim population was this vocal at the time of 9/11 or when our military were slaughtered by IEDs, maybe the general public would be more understanding. They are not as a whole. This is the problem.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Double A

      How can you say Muslims didnt react to 911. I served in Iraq and so did alot of other Muslims. I guarantee you weren't there and that youve never done anything for this Country. So, keep you mouth shut, and pay some taxes for aa chamge. Us Muslims are tired of supporting you.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  15. megoatee

    Muslims often mention how brutal the Christians were, without admitting to the fact that this was a long time ago. We are talking about the world today, and while Christians have learned from their brutality and even apologized, Muslims continue to act in barberic ways and use the execuse that Christians too were barberic. Well, I hate to break it to you Muslims that time did not stand still for you. The clock that ticked for Christians ticked for you too, and while Christians became more enlightned and accomodating as time marched forward, Muslims kept the head in the sand and became even more barberic. You can keep blaming Christians for their past, but to keep your barberic acts using that as an excuse says all I need to know about your religion.


    March 8, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • sun

      The 8 year old girl being married off is not religion, it is culture. These people have been brought up uncivilized being Muslim in name only and probably could not tell you the basics of Islam.

      As for Christians becoming mpre enlightened, how can you say that when you know what the Catholic priests have done to little boys and they have not been held accountable for it from their superiors. How can you say that when a woman who is in danger of dying cannot get an abortion to save her own life. There are black sheep in every religion and culture. You only hear of the wrong-doers. You never hear of the perfectly normal good people (in every religion) who are doing nothing to harm anyone.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  16. Reality

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein. Until then, no male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  17. megoatee

    Muslims can clearly see every one else's biggotry, but their own. They belive every one is born Muslim and converted to another religion at birth. They believe in enforcing their barberic beliefs on every one else by any means, for world conquest.

    Crimes are comitted against Christians and non Muslims in every islamic countries, and Muslims go on defending their religion and shifting blame elsewhere. Very few Muslims have spoken against these attrocities. Yet, they will take full advantage of the liberties offered by the objective non Muslims. This is an utterly selfish religion that does not respect any other.

    Even the most objective Muslim I have met in my life failed miserably when it came to taking an objective look at his religion. When such a friend of mine declared "there's nothing wrong with Islam" despite ample evidence to the contrary such as the blasphamy laws http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/11/24/pakistan.christian/index.html?hpt=Sbin or the stoning of women http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1307908/Iran-death-row-woman-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-hanged-stoned.html right after admitting that a Moslem cannot speak against his religion, I came to the realization that this a religion of enslaving minds. He wanted to give me a Quran so I can learn about Islam. I declined, knowing full well that when a Moslem can't speak against the religion (ex. Salman Rushdie), whatever good a Muslim says about Islam cannot be believed as they can only say good about Islam. The same goes for the Quaran as it is written by Muslims. If you really want to really learn about Islam, read a book that can give you an objective view like Truth About Islam (author in hiding for fear of life), or if you must read the Quran, be sure to learn about the bad as well and form an objective view.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Inner Angst

      I am a Muslim, born and raised in America, have lived abroad in both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and engage in debates about my religion with other Muslims.

      Let me be as clear as I can be: I believe in the separation of state and religion. I have zero interest in the "politicalization" of religion. I married a Bhuddist. I am a praciticing physician. I drink, do not pray 5 times a day or fast during the month of Ramadan. Yes I have performed the Hajj. Yes, I am still a muslim. My point being: All Muslims do not fit under your definition of us.

      As far as your statement about "The most objective Muslim you ever met.... " you obviously haven't met many...

      Lastly, Bin Laden had one goal, and that was to polarize the world. If you and others such as yourself (including Muslims) paint everyone other then themselves under generalities, all you do is further his goals!

      March 8, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  18. Maloof

    America please see how non-Muslims are treated in Muslim and Arab countries before giving in.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • JLS639

      So America's standard in treatment of religious minorities should be Saudi Arabia? We have better standards than that.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  19. A Brazilian Boy

    You know what
    After spending 3 hours reading both sides' different amazing comments, I just became pretty sure that Islam is a great religion and my next step would be to read more about it.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  20. Tree

    My first conversation with a muslim involved me being called a jew and ending with him demanding why I did not know the names of his martyrs. I think there might be a reason for this hearing...

    March 7, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Mike Speakman

      Long past time for these hearings. This is not Europe and we will not accept Sharia law in any form what so ever.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Lyle

      Islam is a Cult, not a religion.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Paco

      Every religion is a cult. There are no true religions. You could start one of your own today and no one would blink an eye.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Lynn Ionia

      If you really want to dig deeper and hear from true experts, check out a very enlightening debate called "Good Muslim/Bad Muslim" on YouTube produced by JihadWatchVideo.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • rs1201

      and don't forget that given the opportunity they'd behead you and any other Jew in the vicinity...remember Daniel Pearl...Right now, world muslims are organizing a boycott of Israeli goods on March 30th. The last time they tried something like this, they were humiliated by their devastating failures in that area. Americans in major cities made it their business to buy ONLY Israeli made goods on the designated day. The same thing is being planned now in response to their attempts at trying to ruin Israel financially.

      March 8, 2011 at 6:30 am |
    • kkg

      You will find many muslims to be nice.. extremely nice people in fact. So having a general vendetta against them based on one interaction is not really justified.
      But yes, when they start forming groups and get assertive, that is when trouble starts. I have lived my childhood withing stone's throw of their settlements. Its not safe. Its not good for anyone. Not even for the muslims themselves though they little realize it (unless poverty and filth is what they want). US would do better to actively oppose radicalization. If you stop speaking out against radicalization, muslims will continue to radicalize as it is their normal tendency.

      March 8, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • abuzayd

      when i went to elementary school in the 80s they taught us that the soviet communists marry for warmth not love, stand in line to determine their occupation and a whole bunch of other untrue stereotypes to feed the fear of the communists taking over the world. The american system of outsourced military spending needs an enemy. After the fall of the soviets the muslims were next in line. The only thing standing in the way of complete globalization is islam and the muslims. the radicalization of muslims is the consequence of the shortsighted foreign policy. the radicals use islam to settle their political beefs and they rely on ignorant sheep to carry out their agenda. on the other side the radical christians/jews/atheists/etc use the ignorant sheep of this country to rally against islam and muslims.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:10 am |
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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.