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)

    According to the 2010 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report: "294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks" occurred in 2009 in six European countries – down almost 50 percent from 2007. The breakdown of attacks with respect to responsibility was thus: 237 by separatist groups; 40 by left-wing and anarchist groups; four by rightists; ten with no clear affiliation; two by single-issue groups, and one by so-called Islamists.

    Your 'fact' that most terrorist attacks are committed in the name of Islam doesn't seem to add up. So why don't we hear more about these other extremist groups? Probably because they don't fit the media narrative. Terrorism in the name of Islam is news news here, no matter where it might happen. Terror in the name of some obscure anarchist group apparently isn't.

    March 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Catalina

      What a moron. Just because it hasn't been classified as such, doesn't mean the foiled attackers didn't have a Quran in their back pockets. Even our own president refuses to condemn Muslim extremism.

      March 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Muneef

    You are wrong

    What Muslims been told about dealing with disbelievers;
    Al-Kafiroon sura 109:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Say: O disbelievers! (1) I worship not that which ye worship; (2) Nor worship ye that which I worship. (3) And I shall not worship that which ye worship. (4) Nor will ye worship that which I worship. (5) Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. (6).

    Verses prove that what ever is happening is not religious conflicts but rather political interests...

    March 8, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  3. zoftig69

    While there are good Muslims here in the US, wonder how many has donated money to go overseas to support terrorist?

    March 8, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  4. Walter Sieruk

    Whey would some Muslims "protest the hearing" ? Are they really afraid of a "witch hunt" or are they really afraid that in a congressional hearing some of the truth about what the teachings of the religion of Islam are really like? An example of the truth about this religion is the book SECRETS OFTHE KORAN by Don Richardson

    March 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  5. ICE MAN


    March 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Alex

      False, your post proves your a racist. Judging 1.6 billion people based on the 10-20 bad people you met while occupying their nation does not make you an expert on these people. Look at all the white people committing heinous crimes around the world. Even in the countries with the worst terrorist problems the guilty are only a tiny fraction of the population.

      Vastly more innocent people have been slaughtered in the name of Jesus then any other religious or political calling in the history of the world. George Bush caused the death of millions of innocent people with his 2 wars on brown people.

      March 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  6. Proud Infidel

    I am a Christian known by Muslim's as an infidel, get your house in order before you come to my house and cause problems! Don't forget I'm watching every step you take as well as many other Infidels!

    March 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  7. aaudaden

    cnn is always the same ...as usual

    March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  8. oudaden

    do you know who is god of .........your politicians ?is it jesus or lucifer?
    which one?
    you know about black magic
    you know about the unseen aye?
    learn don't just fight like an animal..learn like a human

    March 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  9. oudaden

    does it make since to you that a president of a country sits down with kids when his whole country is being attacked?
    do you have brain?
    do you?
    or you fk with us...

    March 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  10. bootstrap

    That meeting is going to be a blast if you know what I mean.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  11. oudaden

    911 is inside job..

    March 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  12. JDK

    Unfortunately Ive had to say this before and Ill say it again.
    The very paper that made this country free shall be its downfall

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  13. Davey

    Nothing wrong with dearlings determining the real threat of Islamic Extremists in this country. There have been plenty of homegrown Islamic terrorist as of late. Anyone who has a problem with looking into that might just have something to hide. This isnt a witch hunt and King even said extremist are a small part of a minority group; all he wants is too assess. Funny how vocal muslims are now when they havent in the past publically denounced the radicals everyone fears. We treat christain extremist the same way...everyone remember Wako? If beliving and worrying about Islamic radicalism in this country and around the world makes me a racist...well then I guess Im a racist....if thats what it has to come down to.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  14. Total nonsense

    Islam and mulsims are a discrace fo the mankind. only a total ban on Islam is a acceptable solution.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Mondo78

      So much for freedom of religion then huh?

      March 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  15. ray

    Muslims are saying they are being singled out. Just who are the terrorists killing and plotting to kill around the world? Aren't they all muslims? They shouldn't be offended because we are talking about muslim extremists, unless they don't want to distinguished themselves from them. Sometimes I get that impression because you don't hear muslims condenming terrorist attacks loudly enough to distance themselves. Aren't we all "infidels" to muslims?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  16. ron

    From the fort hood killings to Frankfurt germany killings,just the other day,muslim terrorists are everywhere.will pop up at anytime.Killing in the name of their god,with any number of reasons. face it, the hidden terrorist are here,in this country planning their next attack.they are Muslim faith so we have to watch those of that faith ,here or over seas. radicals are here lying low ,doing their work,part of the muslims living here. Faith is the reason for the attacks ,so this faith must be watched and we must do all we can to save even on innocent life ,which could be you are members of your familys.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  17. ron

    Muslims here should be looked at closely,and watched ,a majority support the terrorists ,but dont say that ,being quite about it. Im Sure some help the terrorists ,secretly with money, an other things as they can.Their religion wants only them,an doesnt include anyone else not of their faith. The real homegrown terrorists ,in a sense, are the Obama ,liberals,and democrates,who would have us do nothing about homegrown terror,thats is among us. they dont even want to call a terrorist what they are,even after they kill some of us. So the real terror here is the liberal dems ,Obama and groups who support doing nothing , support patting the extreme muslim terrorist on the back,not calling them what they are,while trying to lump groups like the tea party,anti illegal alien groups,republicains ,in the same group as the terrorists .they are always throwing up a smoke screen,blaming others ,using dirty tricks, to keep us unfocused on the real issue,and they never have any answer to a problem,only name calling ,blame an so on.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  18. tj

    Peter King is one of the biggest hypocrites Ive ever seen. I live in his district and he pushes this is all about terrorism and yet he heavily supported and fundraised for the IRA a TERRORIST GROUP. He is covering up his racism its okay as long as the terrorist are irish I guess for him. I'm white and Christian yet have muslim friends am disgusted by this man and will never vote for him.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  19. bduce

    Muslims are the only religion actively attacking Americans and their interests. They cannot control their flock and allow some to attack Americans protecting and funding them while they plan and carry out these attacks. I work with some nice people who are muslim and they admit their are some evil people planning evil things in the name of their religion. If they want to assimilate into this country, they must fight those who attack this country and prove their allegiance. If it always islam first and US second, they should go back to a country who treats their women like mules, strikes down free speech and punishes anyone speaking out against their ruler.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • sean

      So is y our flock told what to do by some imaginary "boss" of all the christian religions? Not sure who you think owns every mosque in the world, but sounds a lot like a conspiracy theory like most of you follow.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Sean


      That “imaginary boss” would be their G0ds.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Saajid

      The USA has been at holy war against muslim countries since the fanatic president Bush took over. Look at Iraq and Afganistan..where are the weapons of mass destruction that were alledged? How many millions of innocent lives lost? How come America gets away without a war crime tribunal? Look at Palestine? America pays Israel $3 Billion a year, to throw Palestinian families onto the street for illegal settlement building? wont muslims feel hate towards America?

      March 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  20. Big Bob

    Rather than run around throwing up smokescreens, why wouldn't Muslims be more transparent? If you're honest as you say the vast majority is, than what do you have to hide? We've been programed for so many years not to believe what our leaders tell us. But what if they are right? And it seems there is overwhelming evidence that they are.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bill

      Why has it taken 10 years to start this inquiry? The media is so afarid of Muslims. With 1.6 Billion muslims in the world, and if only 1 in a 1000 muslims are radical that leaves 1.6 million radicals. For sure, we have a problem. For the safety of our women and children, we have to dig into this Muslim Menace and root out the cancer. I know the problem is with their unelected leaders, the Imams. They don't give a dam about America. They will use freedom to destroy freedom for us all.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • ma1961

      becase they cannot take the truth about themselves, these animals are programmed from birth, its an ideology, I remember a story about 15 years ago, in isreal there was a palestinian who had a child with a jewish girl, she was coming to new york with the baby, he was less than a year old, at the check in in tel aviv they found explosives under the baby,s bum, in the stroller, so magine this animal was trying to kill his girlfriend and their baby, and the rest of the people on board, and you want to give respect to these animals.... wow our future looks good

      March 8, 2011 at 4:38 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.