Group: Hearing Excludes Diversity Of American Muslim Voices
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, we go back to the Ivory Coast, where violence since the disputed elections in December has seen the deaths of more than 400 people. We'll talk to a journalist whose been following the story and has compiled proof that mass killings have taken place. That conversation is coming up.
But first, we want to speak again about those congressional hearings that have been called to investigate, quote, the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community's response. The hearing has been called by Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, because he believes that at least some American Muslims are at risk of being recruited by radical or terrorist organizations.
Earlier this week we spoke to Representative Andre Carson, one of two Muslim-Americans currently serving in the Congress. He disagrees with the tone and focus of the hearings. We also spoke to Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser. He is a Muslim American, a physician, who supports the premise of the hearing and plans to testify.
Today, for the third conversation in our series previewing the hearings, we speak with Rabiah Ahmed of the group My Faith, My Voice. Ms. Ahmed and her group were not invited to testify, so they put out a call to Muslim Americans to upload their own testimonies - of sorts - online. And we'll just play a couple of examples. Here it is.
(Soundbite of recordings)
Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible) young people on political participation, civic engagement and leadership.
Unidentified Woman: I serve our country by being a teacher in the American public school system.
Unidentified Man #2: We did an assembly line to actually assemble food packages that fed about 10,000 people in just a couple of hours.
MARTIN: Those are just some of the voices of just a few people who uploaded their videos. And Rabiah Ahmed of the group My Faith, My Voice is with us now in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome to you. Thank you for joining us.
Ms. RABIAH AHMED (My Faith, My Voice): Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So Rabiah, first I just wanted to ask you your perspective on the hearings. Is it you dispute the whole idea that there are extremist elements or do you feel that the hearings are not the appropriate way to talk about it?
Ms. AHMED: Well, we as American Muslims welcome anything that will help secure the safety of our nation. It is our perspective that these hearings unfortunately do not achieve that. If it is Congressman King's real objective to try to look at a serious issue in an effective way, we think that these hearings actually don't accomplish that for many reasons.
MARTIN: Why not? Why not?
Ms. AHMED: Well, the scope of the hearings, for example, is very limited. He's targeting a certain population of our of our community, of our population, and he is not looking at extremism in a broader sense. And we all know that there is extremist elements in all societies, in all groups. And it's a problem that's not a Muslim problem, but it's a problem that we should face together as a nation united.
And not only just the scope of the hearings, but also the framework in which he is presenting them. He has made many biased claims in the past, many unsubstantiated claims, I should say, in the past, about our community. Things like that 80 percent of our mosques are extremist hotbeds and that the American Muslim community are not cooperating. But where is the evidence for that? There is no evidence. He doesn't back it up with any type of logistics or research. He brings in people who have - who are known for their Islamaphobic comments -to try to affirm his misconceptions.
MARTIN: So you're saying it's a feedback loop.
Ms. AHMED: Exactly.
MARTIN: Well, what about Dr. Jasser, whom we just heard? I'll just play a short clip from our conversation that we had with him yesterday, who is a Muslim American, who feels that there is an issue worth discussing. Here it is.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
Dr. M. ZUHDI JASSER (President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy): This is a Muslim problem that needs a Muslim solution. But, you know, in fact if the solution is going from within, we have to engage and realize that the vast majority of Muslims are not radicalized. But we do have a problem. The amount of cells and radicalization that's been happening in the last 16 to 24 months has been exponentially increasing. And Secretary Napolitano testified to this committee that it's the highest it's ever been.
MARTIN: Well, what do you make of that?
Ms. AHMED: I disagree with him. I think that if you are going to have hearings that you want to be effective, that look at this problem in a serious way, then why don't you bring the people that you say are the problem to testify? He does not do that. He does not have the Muslim leadership. He does not have Muslim (unintelligible). He doesn't have the Muslim grassroots there just to testify on their behalf. And this is a problem that we as a community face, that there are too many people out there who try define who we are and what we stand for.
And that's why it's so important to have platforms like My Faith, My Voice for the general American Muslim community to use, to be able to get their voices out there, to get their reality out there.
MARTIN: What do you hope to accomplish with asking people to upload these videos?
Ms. AHMED: We want to showcase the reality of American Muslims. These are people who are on their own, you know, from the around country, who are concerned about the tone that this country, you know, that many of our country's elected leaders are taking when it comes to talking about the Muslim community and portraying it in a certain way. We want to be able to counter their allegations with our narratives, our stories.
We have law enforcement officials, we have Muslims as elected officials, we have Muslims who are firefighters, police officers who are serving and protecting this country on a regular basis. And there's nothing more convincing than having to hear from themselves.
MARTIN: Well, what do you say, though - Congressman King has said that he's not indicting all Muslims as a group. And I know there's some people who disagree with that, but he said that that's not the case. But of the small group who are disposed to extremist anti-American, you know, acts, then he has a right to talk about that and that does need to be discussed.
And people may point to a case like Nidal Hasan, who - the accused Ft. Hood shooter who, you know, wore the uniform of the United States and then turned guns on his fellow soldiers and caused tremendous devastation, apparently was in contact with a radical, you know, Muslim figure and at least - a radical cleric - and was in fact kind of encouraged by him to some degree. I mean, people look at that and they think, why shouldn't we talk about that?
Ms. AHMED: Sure. And let's definitely talk about it. Let's not shy away from it because it might make us feel a little uncomfortable. We definitely, we're just as concerned about the safety and security of this nation because we live here. Our kids go to school here. We're part and parcel of this society.
But let's approach this topic in a serious way. Let's bring the experts. Let's bring in the intelligence community who has the information. Let's bring in White House officials. Let's bring in professors or people who are actually studying this, like, you know, the professor out of Duke in North Carolina, and let them testify. Let's hear from them.
MARTIN: And, finally, can we just hear one minute from you about how you personally feel about these hearings, if I may? How does it make you personally feel?
Ms. AHMED: I'm saddened. I'm saddened that, you know, as an American who was born and raised here, that my community is being portrayed in this light. And as a parent, I'm concerned about how my child is going to be seen and how he's going to feel about, you know, how he's in this society, whether or not he's part and parcel of the society or he's seen as the other. And I think that these types of hearings only promote interfaith hostility and negative perceptions...
MARTIN: What are you going to do tomorrow while the hearings are taking place?
Ms. AHMED: We're actually getting together, a bunch of us from the group, we're getting together to watch the hearings and, you know, just try to kind of offer our reaction to it, to the various media.
MARTIN: Rabiah Ahmed is one of the founders of the group My Faith, My Voice. Her group was not invited to testify at Congressman Peter King's hearing on radical Islam set to begin tomorrow. So they asked Muslim-Americans to upload testimonials talking about who they are and how they contribute to their communities, and she joined us at our studios in Washington.
Rabiah Ahmed, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. AHMED: Thank you for having me.
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