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. hehehe

    The difference between Islam & terrorism is the same as the difference between 6 & half dozen.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  2. Brian Johnson

    Those Muslims who are complaining about congressional hearings into radicalized Islam and so-called "Islamaphobia" and attempting to assert that the problem of radicalized religious violence is no more prevalent in Islam than any other religion would have for more credibility if they spent one-tenth the energy convincing those who want to kill me in the name of their shared faith that THEY don't understand Islam, as they do trying to convince me that I don't understand Islam. Furthermore, claims by Muslims of religious intolerance in the United States ring hollow, and are patently hypocritical in light of the fact that Saudi Arabia, the 'home" of Islam, will not allow the construction of any non-Islamic structure within its 800,000 mile borders, let alone the open practice of any religion other than Islam – a situation hardly different from most Muslim countries. In other words, if you want to change the perception of Islam in the world, you would be more effective in devoting your energies towards reforming the issues in Islam that cause that perception than trying to convince people their perception is wrong.

    The fact is that the overwhelming majority, if not all, predominantly Muslim countries are human rights disasters; most of the most brutally repressive and intolerant regimes in the world are in predominantly Muslim countries. When you continue to shout that “Islam is a religion of peace” at me, while making excused for or minimizing the prevalence of radicalized Islam and largely ignoring, or denying, the religious and gender intolerance that is pervasive in predominantly Muslim countries, you begin to sound like that joke about the married man who’s caught in bed with another woman by his wife – “Who are you going to believe, me, or your lyin' eyes!?”

    March 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  3. blf83

    Though Rep. King's beliefs are rarely something with which I agree, his behavior on this issue is reprehensible. Instead of helping Americans to understand each other – and, yes, many Muslims are good citizens of the US – Mr. King seems intent on dividing people, demonizing one group, and generally displaying his own biases and ignorance.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Viceoreason

    We wouldn't be at this state of affairs if the "Non Radical" muslims policed their own. It's pitiful that they stand in Central park complaining when it could have been prevented if they put as much effort into cooperation as they do into protest. Yo ABU, the 150,000 murders you speak of were not in the name of any religion. Wake up

    March 8, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  5. John Geheran

    Why can't the Islamic community get as exercised about the fact that 99% of terrorist acts are perpertrated by "devout" Muslims as they do about the non-Muslim community attempts to investigate and analyze THEIR problem? Muslim credibility would be better served if they were part of the solution as opposed to playing the "victim" card.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  6. chuck

    I wish we could all do the Rodney King thing and just get along, but unfortunately you must know the Quran. Radical Islam is rampant and it only comes from the confusing message within the Quran. As stated in other quotes that Islam is peace, but that is way from the truth. The religion is false and untrue with proven facts. Anyone that can come to the conclusion that they can send their children to blow up themselves for the ability for the family to go to heaven is way to much. Christ wants us to love the sinner, but we must not love the sin. If you want to see what Islam has brought in tolerance, then go to a Muslim country and try to witness for Christ and give a bible. you will be killed or beaten. Blame Christians for not being tolerant when Jesus only wants us to forgive and love one another.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. Don

    I wonder if Peter King is willing to discuss his role in active fundraising for weapons for the outlawed Irish Provisional Army terror group during his "investigation of Muslim extremists? Just so we have some "fair and balanced" viewpoints........

    of course we all know the answer already. He isn't going to look at any christian terror groups and question priests and pastors why they don't tell the FBI that members of their church might be terrorists thinking about bombing clinics and government buildings.....

    March 8, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  8. Mark

    Another ridiculous religion. Religion keeps people stupid, it's man made and fake, there is no god or allah, there is no proof of his/its/her existence, and there never will be.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  9. Maimonida

    The whole topic of "hearing" sounds racist. I think that lawmakers shall pay more attention to job creation, health care and deficit of the budget. They may also pay attention to education and foreign policy. They pay attention to agenda that interesting to no one but Tea Party.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Art

      You don't think that things like 9/11, Fort Hood, the attempt to blow up several planes (Shoe bomber and underwear bomber) are important? I'll bet it's nice to be blissfully ignorant of what's going on around you.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  10. Edward

    How wonderful it would be if this hearing was not necessary. Muslim violence all around the world causes us to examine the reason so many muslims turn radical. How I wish Muslims would not put themselves in this position.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  11. norcalmojo

    Why don't moderates think radicalization is a problem? It's been 10 years since 911 and US Muslim communities are still churning out psychopaths. Why avoid the issue? They're just hearings.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  12. WarriorsMk2u

    Perhaps it is because the Congressman King from NY who is Chairing the hearings was a long time supporter of the IRA terrorists. King called terrorists patriots and founding fathers of a new way of living. He endorsed the IRA bombings in London and condoned the collateral killing of civiians as the cost of freedom. He didn't even condemn the killing of children the Lord Louis Montbatten of Burma, Uncle of the Queen and WWII hero when the IRA asassinated him. If he is going to hold hearing on terrorism – let it include the Klan, the Teabaggers, the Black Panthers, the White Supremicists all of whom are home grown and planning to some extent to disrupt American Civilization by violence.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Art

      Duh! There have been hearings in the past on the Mafia (I didn't see Italians protesting did you?), White supremacists and others. Besides, I never had to get undressed and X-Rayed at the airport because of those other groups. I'm surprised that you aren't angry about doing that.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Don

      You don't really believe that Peter King would actually want to bring up the fact that he supports terrorists as long as they happen to agree with his viewpoint, do you? I don't remember him looking into christians not reporting fellow radicalized christans who were murdering doctors and bombing government buildings either. And he was pretty quiet about his fundraising for the terror group the IRA.

      anyone requested to testify should bring that fact up when asked why

      March 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  13. George

    I hope the hearings are televised. The ratings should go through the roof, maybe as big as the Watergate hearings! America needs to hear the Muslim community to create a better understanding of who is who or what is what. It was good to read an article reporting that American Muslim groups were planning a counter protest outside the White House directed toward the radical cleric from Britain who was calling for Sharia law in the U.S. American Muslims need to be much more proactive in such ways, they owe it to this land that took them in. Learn what it means to be an American. This is not a country that has itself mired in ancient culture. We lit this candle.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  14. Tim

    Some one explain this. Why are the Republicans trying to push what they see as a Christian agenda when that agenda can't be further from Christian docturine? What the Republicans are pushing are oposite of Christian teaching and should be labeled Demonic.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  15. Mixmatch

    These individuals who belong to a cult that espouses the teachings of a deviant do not belong in a civilized society. Deport them all. I don't care where there were born.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  16. Kim

    Yes, let's have hearings against everyone. How about Christians too? What about Athiests? Hmm? What's next? Come on, people. This is morally wrong, in any religion or absence of it, to attack a whole peoples' character based on the god they believe in. What's the point, to twist someone's religion into evil? To slander people?..????? I'm Athiest, and I can honestly and whole-heartedly say I care a great, great deal more about the people in the world than the majority of Christians. My love for people isn't marred by the sayings in a book, it's not dictated by words on a page. My love for people-all people-is because my love escapes the restraints of religion.

    Let people believe what they want to believe. I don't agree with Christians' religious beliefs? I don't try to put them down or tell them they're crazy. Nor do I to Muslims.

    Because doing that would make me a selfish person. And how could any "god" love that about a human being? My point is, there are wonderful people that come from all different religious backgrounds. It doesn't matter what their god's name is. It matters how much they care about the rest of the people in their lives, and in the world. That's how I measure someone's worthiness. Not by the god he or she chooses.

    I also believe we have to love even the ones we dislike, even "hate". And that's how I can judge someone, ask them how they feel about someone they hate. Because there are people I do truly hate, but I couldn't let anyone be hurt or killed. I would stick up for them if I had to.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • George

      This is America and congressional hearings are a way of life. You must be from some theological dictatorship or something. This type of thing is how we sort it out here in the good ole USA.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Art

      So you have no problem with radicalized Muslims who admit that they want to kill us? You are sick my friend. These hearings are about RADICALIZED Muslims. Major Hassan was one of them and he murdered our soldiers in the name of Islam. Why don't you have a problem with that? And don't say that was only one time. How about the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, Times Square bomber, and many more?

      March 8, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  17. JakeF

    Take a look at your own belief system before you make judgment on others.

    It's easy to throw around catch phrases you've heard from your favorite fearmonger.

    It's difficult to educate yourselves. Too many of you need to use the internet for more than a forum to spew your venom.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • grebis

      Since when has it become fashionable to label the truth "fearmonger"ing? You can't change a fact and tha facts are that we were attacked by islamacist whack jobs and thaere are plenty more coming out of the woodwork every day. Stay tuned.....

      March 8, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  18. abu

    since 2001 33 people were killed in America by so called Muslim fanatics(which include the crazy soldier who turn the gun against his collegue after years of abuse by his army mate). 150,000 American were killed in America by Christian(criminals/drug users/alcoholically).None of the 150,000 murder committed against these innocent people were by an American Muslim. you see you have a lot worst problem than few fanatic Muslims. you are spending your resources on the wrong group. However, there is jealousy, hatred against your own fellow citizens who happen to be of a different religion.
    I am inviting all of you to Islam(submission to the ones of God) and if you do you will be the happiest person in the world.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Robert

      no thanks abu. are you now going to offer me dhimmi status? if so, then no again. so I guess that just leaves my subjugation... bring it, i am waiting for your attempt.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Stepa

      Hey Abu, you forgot to mention 4000 dead from 9/11

      March 8, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • AK

      Well, if you promise me 72 muslim virgins, I may consider it.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • grebis

      Sorry abu. Since I am literate and not subject to 24-7 programming and interpretation of fanatical ideology from a moon rock worshipping charlatan, I think I'll sit this one out. Besides, my flying carpet is in the shop and I just don't trust those rentals...

      March 8, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • grebis

      ...as well: There ain't a thing saying those virgins will be girls, so yea, I'll still pass.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • George

      I find it odd that you are keeping count of the number of Americans being killed by Muslims. Is there a score sheet being distributed in the Islamic world? State your source when you post supposed facts. The reason for the hearings is because we know that incidents like Ft Hood, Times Square, and many others, are not over. Its jihad, remember?

      March 8, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Art

      You are obviously intelligent enough to tell the difference between individual criminals and people who kill for an ideology towards a admitted goal.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • RLD

      Yea of course you forgot to mention the thousands of dead on 9/11

      March 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • white

      I agree abu,if only they knew.They are just brainwashed by the media into thinking Islam isn't peaceful.As I know many who are and I only feel secure around them.They aren;t criminals.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • abu

      Stepa, you need to take some math classes to improve your math count skill, the number of victims of September 11(May they rest in peace are 2500 not 4000 and also 1 million Iraqi civilian people killed and 100,000 Ahgani.100,000 others were thrown in jails just because they happen to be muslims. who said it was Muslims that did it? the whole world knows it was an inside job(www.911sharethetruth.com).
      I suggest to educate your self and stop delivering your venom which is destroying the harmony between people of all faiths.
      by the way Muslim were not behind 40 millions killed during world war, Vietnam war, Korean War, slavery,extermination of native Indian, Holocaust, crusades.....
      Think straight
      God Bless USA

      March 8, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • loves my chik fil'a

      Sorry abu but these "christian" criminals you mentioned do not yell out "god is great" before commiting their crimes. Nor do they murder for their Ideology. Their just common thugs. Radical islam is a perversion of your religon (which granted all religons have some form of radicalized individuals) the problem is is that radicalized islam is by far the most destructive form in the world since it has gotten so many killed. Look at what happened in germany last week alone. So sorry no sharia law for me...... I like going to the nudey bar and drinking during my off time.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  19. Willie12345

    We don't need another Fort Hood shooting. Trying to understand the radicalization of American Muslims is appropriate. However, it needs to be done thoughtfully, respectfully and skillfully. Help from the Muslim community would be nice. So far, the moderate Muslims have been very silent.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  20. DMcK

    The huge white muslim woman next door likes to brag about how they will take over this country & the world by birth rate alone, if not by force. She's on welfare, of course, which includes huge medical bills (diabetes, etc – claims she's been 'dying' for the last 20 years) She often points out the 'baby mommas' (various races) belonging to one muslim 'husband' or other and most of whom are also on the dole. We taxpayers are paying for this evil and many of our politicians are trying to sell it to us. Yeah, I'm really supportive – NOT! And NO more muslim immigration – stop it NOW! No Sharia Law – we have USA laws, thank you very much!

    March 8, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • wf

      Remember, other ethnic groups came to this country for a better live. However, the Muslims came to take over due to the way the US government is structured. they are using our democracy against us and they seem to be successful in doing so. All Americans should stand up and require that they be deported back to their country of origine.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Al

      Sir you are a liar. You are advocating nothing but verbal hate and racism by your pathetic example of some Muslim woman that lives next door to you. You have no idea how many Muslims contribute to this society through medicine, business, construction, the law and the arts. I suggest you pick up a book and start reading some statistics on American Muslims and see how much financial and academic wealth they've actually generated to this country before you categorize yourself as a redneck. And you're taxes arent paying for any prevention of terrorisim. Its your congressman and beuarocrats who are trying to make an extra buck by starting a propaganda of accusing demographic of evil than reaping off the benefits by solidifying contracts via the military and homeland security, taking money from the taxpayers who have enough problems.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • David

      Guilt by association will have the white community in the US in a world of hurt. But we are smarter than that. Why can you be smart enough when it comes to Islam?

      March 8, 2011 at 11:53 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.