Muslim Congressman Suspicious Of Radicalization Hearings

On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security will host a controversial hearing into what it calls, the radicalization within the American Muslim community. Committee chairman, Congressman Peter King (R-NY), claims Al-Qaida affiliates are radicalizing some American Muslims. The probe has drawn wide criticism, raising fears that it might demonize the country's Muslim population. Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN), one of Congress' two Muslim members, shares his concerns about the upcoming hearings.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

On Thursday, members of the House Committee on Homeland Security will assemble for a hearing on, quote, "The extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community's response." The hearings have been called by Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. King says al-Qaida affiliates are radicalizing some American Muslims.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): We're talking about al-Qaida. We're talking about the affiliates of al-Qaida who have been radicalizing. 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. To be having investigations into every type of violence (unintelligible) equivalency that's not there.

MARTIN: We've invited Congressman King to be a guest on the program and we do hope he will join us at some point to talk about the hearings and what he hopes to accomplish.

But in the meantime, the focus on Muslim-Americans has sparked anger and anxiety from other quarters, especially groups that represent Muslim-Americans such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, Amnesty International and the Interfaith Alliance. We plan to host series of conversations previewing the upcoming hearings, including a conversation with a Muslim-American who supports the premise of the hearing and plans to testify.

But first, we wanted to get some perspective and reaction from a lawmaker who knows something about the challenges of confronting the concerns of a nation and also something about the growing concern of Muslim-Americans.

Congressman Andre Carson is a Democrat representing Indiana's 7th District. He is one of two Muslim-Americans serving in the U.S. Congress and he's with us now in our Washington, D.C. studio. And Representative Carson, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Representative ANDRE CARSON (Democrat, Indiana): Thank you for having me. I'm so honored to be here. Thank you.

MARTIN: I do want to ask you, when you first heard that these hearings would be called, what your reaction was.

Rep. CARSON: Well, I was very suspicious of the premise behind the hearings and I wonder if this really helps. I don't think it helps. I think it discourages Muslim-Americans from participating with law enforcement and acting effectively as informants in many cases and really bridging the gap between law enforcement and our Muslim communities across this country.

MARTIN: Well, Congressman King, I think, points to, as we mentioned, we would like an opportunity to speak with him directly, but certainly he will discuss this at the hearing. There have been incidents involving people who happen to be American citizens who have engaged in or attempted to engage in acts of terrorism. I mean, one of the most high-profile examples was a man who last May parked a car bomb in New York's Time Square. The bomb failed to detonate.

But people look at incidents like that and they believe that there is something to at least talk about and think about. That it is a relevant issue in considering the entire picture of national security. What do you say to that to people who have those concerns?

Rep. CARSON: You know, seven out of the last ten al-Qaida plots threatening the U.S. since 9/11 have been prevented with the help of Muslims. And this is a fact that comes from the Muslim Public Affairs Council. But now, overall, almost 40 percent of al-Qaida terror plots threatening the U.S. since 9/11, Michel, were foiled with the assistance of Muslims.

In a report compiled in 2008 by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, START, Islamic extremists weren't even in the top 10 for the groups that state police organizations and agencies across our country reported.

We had neo-Nazis in the top 10, militia patriot groups, skinheads, freemen, environmentalist groups, the KKK, extreme anti-tax groups, anti-immigration groups and others. And Islamic jihadi groups came in at a distant 11 on the list.

That's not to say we don't have serious national security concerns as it relates to so-called Muslims plotting attacks. I worked in homeland security. I'm the only member of Congress to date who has worked at homeland security in an intelligence fusion center dealing with counterterrorism and intelligence. But having said that, it is critical. We will not win the war against terrorism without help from Muslims.

MARTIN: What is a more constructive way, in your view, to have this conversation?

Rep. CARSON: Well, I think it's important that the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies take a concerted effort to reach out to mosques across this country and say, hey, we are not here to hurt you. We're not going to show up in your mosque, one, without probable cause. We're not going to have national security letters as a means of investigating you.

And Muslims have to feel safe in their communities. Muslims have to know that law enforcement is there to protect. Now, of course there are serious issues with racial profiling that I know as an African-American male. There are issues of religious profiling.

But if law enforcement in our communities of interest take this step to engage with Muslim communities, I think you'll find not only assistance, but you'll find greater insights. You'll have multilingual interpreters when you need be. And you'll have an overt - a groundswell of support in terms of receiving tips for any suspicious activities that may occur in these Islamic centers.

MARTIN: But when you look, for example, at another case that has obviously, was a very traumatic experience for the country and for the people involved. Major Nidal Hasan, an American citizen, wearing the uniform of the United States, but at some point embraced a hostile view of his fellow citizens and acted upon it and killed people and shot and wounded many people at Fort Hood. How should an issue like that be discussed?

Rep. CARSON: Well, I think it's an issue of deep concern. There have been other instances of folks who have gone AWOL and have harmed fellow soldiers in the line of duty and off duty. I think we can't use his case to indict Muslims across the board. I think the fact is that most people who have become radicalized in America are self-radicalized. They get on the internet, they go to these websites, they look at these videos from these so-called gatekeepers to the religion and they reinforce and reaffirm growing anti-American sentiment that they already hold.

And so, I think he's one point. But critics of Islam have used him as an example and a reason why we shouldn't have Muslims in the military or Muslims in law enforcement. I think it's the wrong path to take.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. I'm speaking with Representative Andre Carson. He's a Democrat from Indiana. He is one of two Muslim-Americans currently serving in Congress. We're talking about the upcoming House Homeland Security Committee hearing to address the subject of the radicalization or the supposed radicalization of American-Muslims. So those hearings are to be chaired by Congressman Peter King, a Republican of New York later this week.

But, Representative Carson, I have to push you on the question of, if there is this concern, are hearings not an appropriate way to address it? Even if it's a misplaced concern...

Rep. CARSON: Sure.

MARTIN: ...what is the better approach to - pretend it doesn't exist or to air it and address it?

Rep. CARSON: That's fine. I think Chairman King has a right to hold these hearings. But I'm more deeply concerned when Muslims, Representative Ellison will be allowed to testify, thank goodness. But Muslims, not just imams, Muslim attorneys, Muslim scholars, Muslim doctors, Muslim social scientists and scholars have not been allowed to testify at these hearings. And because of that, my suspicion is growing day by day. But let me just say...

MARTIN: And you mentioned that you, even though you have a counterterrorism background, an intelligence background, presumably you've asked to testify and you have not been...

Rep. CARSON: That is correct.

MARTIN: ...offered an opportunity to testify. Do you know why?

Rep. CARSON: No.

MARTIN: Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota who is the first Muslim-American to be sworn in to serve in Congress, will be allowed to testify.

Rep. CARSON: He will be allowed. And I know Keith will do a fantastic job.

MARTIN: I think it's fair to mention that Muslim-Americans are not the only people who are expressing concern about these hearings. In a piece he penned for Politico, Representative Bennie Thompson, he's the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee. He was the chair of that committee when the Democrats controlled the Congress.

He wrote that according to the Department of Homeland Security, loan wolves in small terrorist cells may be the single most dangerous threat we face. Attacks are just as likely to come from loan wolf extremists like James von Brunn, the Holocaust museum shooter, or Jared Lee Loughner, who's charged with the tragedy of Tucson, Arizona, as they are from Muslim extremist groups.

And Thompson goes on to add that the common denominator between many of these loan wolves is that they've articulated their positions on the Internet. His argument is that the discussion needs to be around behavior.

Rep. CARSON: Yes.

MARTIN: As opposed to identity and belonging to a particular group.

Rep. CARSON: That reinforces my earlier point and the report compiled by the National Consortium on START that's filing Jihadists ranked number 11. And so, I think we really need to look critically at really defining terrorism, it had Ku Klux Klan, given the history in America, in fact, a terrorist group. Other groups will meet the criteria as being terrorist groups. So terrorism in this country has an Islamic face, unfortunately.

Are there Islamic bozos out there who really want to see harm done to Americans? Absolutely. We have to act and isolate the threat and deal with the threat effectively. However, there are other groups, particularly racial supremacist groups, who pose a greater threat to our internal security.

MARTIN: Well, finally, the hearings are going to go forward, despite the fact that a number of people are very uncomfortable with them, including, you know, the White House. So what will you be watching for as you see the hearings unfold? You will clearly be attending, even though you have not been offered an opportunity to testify. What will you be looking for? And what do you recommend that the public look for as they evaluate these hearings going forward?

Rep. CARSON: Unfortunately, these hearings won't be balanced. I think Bennie Thompson makes a phenomenal point. He's a dear friend and a mentor. I will say this. I will be going across the country, as I've done. I was in New York yesterday at the I Am Muslim rally put on by Russell Simmons, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Feisal, formerly of the now-infamous Park51 mosque, if you will.

And so people across the country are outraged. People across the country who love America are concerned. I told a story yesterday about Ben Franklin at the - during the constitutional convention. And after it was over, a lady by the name of Mrs. Powell(ph) walked up to Ben Franklin and she said, well, Ben, what do we have, a monarchy or a republic? And Ben looked at Mrs. Powell and said, We have a republic if you can keep it.

How do we keep the republic? We keep the republic by being engaged. We keep the republic by speaking truth to power. We keep the republic by critiquing those who we have sent to Washington to represent our interests. We critique them and we call them on the carpet when we see them going astray. That's how we strengthen the republic and that's how we keep the republic, and being politically engaged.

MARTIN: Congressman Andre Carson represents Indiana's 7th District. He is one of two Muslim Americans currently serving in the U.S. Congress. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Congressman Carson, thank you so much for joining us.

Rep. CARSON: Always an honor. Thank you.

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