Some Emotion, No Surprises At Muslim Radicals Hearing

The House Homeland Security committee held a hearing Thursday on the radicalization of American Muslims. The panel heard testimony from Muslims about elements within their communities who support terrorism and discourage cooperation with law enforcement. Others testified that those sentiments are not representative of the majority of Muslims in the U.S. The hearing has been a source of controversy almost since it was announced months ago. Critics said it unfairly singled out Muslims as a source of homegrown terrorism.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with a question, just how radical has the U.S. Muslim community become? That's what the House Homeland Security Committee tried to figure out today.

As NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, the beginning of controversial hearings brought plenty of emotion, but no surprises.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Ever since 9/11, Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, has been focused on preventing another terrorist attack. Now, he sees a new kind of threat - from within.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): Homegrown radicalization is part of Al-Qaida's strategy to continue attacking the United States.

HAGERTY: Witness, he says, the state of attacks or attempted attacks by Muslims in the U.S. - at Fort Hood, in Times Square, at Fort Dix in Portland, in Washington, D.C.'s subway. So King is using his position as Homeland Security chairman to investigate. He says the hearing is perfectly justified.

Rep. KING: There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings.

HAGERTY: Not so, countered Keith Ellison, a Democrat who's also a Muslim-American. This hearing is condemning an entire religious group because of a few bad actors, he said. Something that Congress has not done before.

Representative KEITH ELLISON (Democrat, Minnesota): The Oklahoma City bombing, the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by James Von Brunn, and bombings at Planned Parenthood clinics, do Congress focus on the ethnic group or religion of these agents of violence? As a matter of public policy, the answer is no.

HAGERTY: Ellison said virtually all Muslims are law abiding and loyal. He became emotional as he told about a first responder to that attack on the World Trade Center. People spread false rumors that the man was one of the attackers because he was a Muslim.

Rep. ELLISON: Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion.

HAGERTY: But other witnesses had a different kind of story. One man spoke of his son who went to college and was, he said, brainwashed by leaders at the nearby mosque. The young man later trained in Yemen, returned and killed a soldier in Little Rock.

Another witness was Abdirizak Bihi from Minneapolis. He said his nephew was radicalized at the local mosque and recruited by the Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. After the young man went to Somalia to train as a terrorist, the mosque leaders told his parents not to inform the police.

The first message was to the parents that if you go to the FBI or the police, they don't care about you because, anyway, you are Muslim, they will send you to Guantanamo.

HAGERTY: Congressman King has said repeatedly that this is a major concern. Namely that some Muslim leaders and national organizations protect would-be terrorists and thwart police. But at the hearing, Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, disputed that.

Mr. LEROY BACA (Sheriff, Los Angeles County): Muslims are just as independent, just as feisty, just as concerned about safety. They certainly don't want their homes or their mosques blown up. And thereby, as individuals, they have been doing things with local law enforcement without the cover, so to speak, of an organization.

HAGERTY: Baca said in Los Angeles, Muslim organizations work closely with his officers to prevent attacks. He also cited statistics that show that since 9/11, there have been almost twice as many terror plots nationwide by non-Muslims as Muslims.

But Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim doctor and founder of a small group called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said America cannot close its eyes to what he sees as a cancer in the Islamic community here. He said a small but growing number of Muslims subscribe to political Islam, which would elevate the religion above all else. And he said, that leads to radicalism.

Dr. ZUHDI JASSER (Founder, American Islamic Forum for Democracy): And until you treat that diagnosis, what I call political Islam, spiritual Islam will continue to suffer, our faith community will suffer, and this country's security will continue to suffer.

HAGERTY: Chairman King plans to hold more hearings on the topic and they're likely to be just as controversial.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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