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. Upperhand

    “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,”

    All Muslims must suck it up and face the music...blame yourselves for any action taken against you.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  2. Upperhand

    “Al Qaeda is actively attempting to recruit individuals living within the Muslim American community to commit acts of terror,”

    Other than Muslims, I'm not aware of anyone else being recruited or sought by Al Qaeda to commit terrorist acts or participate in terrorist activities against Americans...the only animals answering the call to jihad just happen to be Muslims.

    Anyone care to deny this fact??

    March 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  3. JWH

    It is real simple.....look at their lack of freedom and control by fear in their home nations. OK, that is how YOU will live in thefuture if the ydo not kill you first. That simple.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  4. Maloof

    Has anyone seen what school textbooks in Arab & Muslim countries teach about Christians, Jews and other religions – they pretty much say that all non-muslims are disposable and must be blotted out from this world. Radicalization is not what America has taught them – it is part of the package.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  5. Upperhand

    “Let’s not repeat that history by blaming all Muslims for the extremist actions of a range of people in this country.”

    The only terrorists committing attacks on Americans just happen to be Muslim. Lets stick to the facts here.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Henry

      The only problem is all Muslim (including Muslim in the free world) either support the extremists or the best they could do us to play the role of a spectator; No one ever willing to stand up against or condemn the killing of the innocent, and the non-believers,

      March 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Upperhand


      March 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  6. Loveurcountry

    All men are created equal. This article is about racism. Americans need to treat fellow Americans with dignity and respect no matter race or creed. Learn from history, don't repeat it.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Taqiyya

      This article is not about racism. It's about a group of people wanting to destroy the lives of anyone who does not believe what they do. How is it racism when you dont want to beleive what another group does and know because you dont, they want to kill you. I will as many others will, protect myself from this.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  7. Upperhand

    “There is a generalized sense of Islamophobia floating around, and the hearings are not doing anything to assuage Muslim fears.”

    "Islamophobia": The fear of speaking out against the rapidly growing religion/ideology that is out to repress all who do not follow its doctrine.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  8. ron farris

    It is my understanding that of the 30 plus wars going in in the world right now – Muslims are involved in every one of them. Any thoughts as to why this is?

    March 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Taqiyya

      Because their religion promotes hate and has not shown in any way a means of maturing as other religions have. They will continue to be a slave of their own book and commit barbarous acts on anyone non-muslim when givin the opportunistic moment.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • wyciwyg

      gee whiz, that;s way more than the US is mired in ...how about that? and yet the US is viified, denounced, accused of all sorts of expansionist, imperialist,capitalist, and any or "-ist" known to mankind. go figure

      March 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  9. Forreal89

    what a scary site please go home you are not wanted

    March 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  10. Upperhand

    "Islamophobia": The fear of speaking out against the rapidly growing religion/ideology that is out to repress all who do not follow its doctrine.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Eric

      That's Islamophobophobia.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Rabid Rabbit

      "ChristianRightophobia": The fear of speaking out against the rapidly growing religion/ideology that is out to repress all (Muslims, Democrats, gays, etc. etc.) who do not follow its doctrine.

      March 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  11. Ralph_Indy

    I guess since the race card can only get you so many bigots and morons, Rep. King has decided to use American Muslims to scare narrow minded or uninformed Christian folks. Radicals are losing out in the middle east. Too bad right wing facist narrow minded bigots have taken control of the GOP and are winning here in America.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  12. draculardw

    Wolves in sheep clothing is what this article is about. If you do not want to recall this from history foretold many,many years ago. I feel for you really, I do. Well then, what could possibly convince you? Well, let us turn out attention to something more recent. Europe, seems to be talking recently, quite chatty, I might add, and see how the history unfolded for them. I think this might be something that should be investigated immediately and well as a very watchful eye every minute on American soil.

    March 5, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Nate (Seattle, WA)

    When are we going to get hearings on the radicalization of American Christians?

    It's time congress investigated the biggots like Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and the idiots in the midwest who assassinate abortion clinic doctors.

    March 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • john1113

      Interestingly enough.. not one person you mentioned murdered anyone. The ones who did murder abortion clinic doctors are guilty of murder. However, I will not change my stance.. and I will say that Abortion is MURDER. Simple as that. Now, as for Christians, we are just like everybody else.. except we are forgiven. If I rob a bank. as a Christian, I can still be forgiven if I ask for it.. but I will still suffer the consequences.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • draculardw

      Oh look my brothers, satan has a new child.... He is a liar and the truth is not in him.......

      March 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • wyciwyg

      silly man. none of those ppl advocate or plan or commit mayhem or murder. They offer alternative views to those currently beng presented by a DC partisanized (did i just make up a word) media machine. Hearing both sides of an issue is healthy for a citizenry, joggles the ole brain cells to actually THINK and compare instead of being a bobble-head drone. Last I knew, discussion of opposing views was still allowed and legal here in US ... not so much in Islam-controlled regions tho.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • wyciwyg

      Video trains boys to be suicide bombers; Taliban spokesman says they didn't make it, expresses approval
      KABUL, Afghanistan Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman “The positive aspect of the video is that it motivates the children for jihadi ideas,” Mr. Mujahid said. “The negative point is that it affects their lives.
      “It gives them courage for this kind of work, but children should not do this kind work at this age. But they should have an idea about jihad in their mind, and they should prepare themselves for sacrifice.”

      March 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  14. rodriga

    @ Muneef, don't you feel it is a little unfair that you are allowed to preach Islam in western countries yet in Muslim-dominated countries there are such strict “anti-blasphemy laws” that completely limit all sense of freedom of speech and religion? Why don’t Muslims push for greater religious freedom for non-Muslims in Muslim dominated countries before complaining about religious oppression in the west?

    March 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • TheNumber

      Perhaps because this is the United States of America and we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other countries. Justifying treating Muslims poorly because some Muslims in other countries treat Christians poorly is the most ridiculous argument I've heard. It makes you as bad as they are.

      I am a damn proud American. As an American I hold myself to a higher standard and refuse to lower myself because of the actions of others. We have enemies out there and we need to fight those enemies. We also need to be INTELLIGENT and know who those enemies are and not make more enemies by being ignorant.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Loveurcountry

      What do think they are fighting in their own countries for? They do not have the freedom to speak their mind or believe what they want.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • nevermind

      I am Muslim and one reason why my family moved to America is for the freedoms we have here. This is why we are the best country in the world. U and others need to stop comparing the US to other counties freedoms. They dont have our freedoms and thats why we move here.

      March 5, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Rabid Rabbit

      @ TheNumber: Bravo! Excellent post. Just when I was beginning to think there weren't any ACTUAL patriots out there who understand what America is TRULY all about.

      March 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  15. Protekusa

    Here's a very good example how these islamic extremist will do in order to kill anyone because of thier beliefs. Read the first comment by Ken. It's about a video which shows children being train to be dumb suicide bombers....


    March 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  16. Jay

    I wish CNN would be skeptical of the radicalization of Muslims as they are the Tea Party

    March 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  17. Henry

    You have nothing to fear if you all willing stand up and and actively fight Islamic terrorists together with the peace loving people of the USA. It is never too late to show what you are really make of or believe in. Otherwise, you are welcome to leave this country peacefully when the door is still opened.

    March 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • arduck

      You mean like prominent Republican and other narrow-minded Americans hold the fundamentalist Christians responsible for their myopic, hateful rhetoric and doings?

      March 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Henry

      I don't know if there is any Christian terrorist, Buddhist terrorist, or Hindu terrorist...but if there is any, I am sure not many Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu support such act of terror and most will go against it. This is the fundamental difference between the Islamic terrorism and others. So don't mix up the argument and attention by throwing other regions into the pot. If not all Muslim are terrorists or if not every Muslim supports terrorism, then please prove it with concrete actions. Do something to contain and destroy terrorism, especially, Islamic terrorism.

      March 5, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  18. Yukon Bill

    What about the violent radical Christian sect? I'm sure most regular Christians would like to see those crazy folks looked into.

    March 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • draculardw

      That's news to me, never heard of them before.

      March 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • darrell

      exactly. When was the last time anyone heard of a terrorist who was acting to support explicitly "Christian" aims? White supremacists and anti-government loonies get painted as "christian terrorists" but they obviously aren't, while "isolated lone wolves" like the gunman in Germany who killed two U.S. soldiers shout "allah akbar". a blatant double standard

      March 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • just me

      where are these radical Christians who are blowing up buildings and murdering innocent people? Timothy McVeigh (sp) doesn't count, as he was not a Christian in any sense of the word.

      March 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  19. DCavender

    The real problem is not Islam per se; the real problem is that people still believe in any god. Until we get past such juvenile beliefs, people will continue to distrust each other. After all, I believe in the one true god, while everyone else believes in a false god.....

    March 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  20. allisfarinaloveaffair

    Egypt: Muslims attack Coptic community, a priest and three deacons missing: http://www.speroforum.com/a/49744/Egypt-Muslims-attack-Coptic-community-a-priest-and-three-deacons-missing

    March 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Learn a little

      Oh, and they also acted as human shields to protect Coptic Christians attending Christmas Mass.

      March 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Sean

      Most Egyptians think that it was Mubarak's Internal Intelligence did the attacks for many reasons, mainly to blame on Muslim Brotherhood group, and secondly to keep Egyptians divided.

      As we have seen in the Egyptian revolution, Muslims and Copts were fighting Mubarak's regime side by side.

      March 5, 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.