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A Hearing To Ask: Are Muslims Being Radicalized?
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A Hearing To Ask: Are Muslims Being Radicalized?

Politics

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

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

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

To some, it's a witch hunt; to others, a reality check. This Thursday, the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports that the idea of the hearing has created a fierce debate here in Washington and around the country.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The good news, Congressman Pete King says, is that al-Qaida has been thwarted from flying any more planes into buildings or attacking the U.S. from overseas. The bad news, he told Fox News, is that some Muslims in the U.S. are picking up the slack.

PETER KING: We are under siege by Muslim terrorists, and yet there are Muslim leaders in this country who do not cooperate with law enforcement. We have the reality that al-Qaida is trying to recruit Muslim Americans, and yet we have people in the Muslim community who refuse to face up to this.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And so King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is investigating homegrown terrorism. That might be a valid topic, says Corey Saylor at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, except that he believes King has an agenda.

COREY SAYLOR: So he said things like there are too many mosques in America. He's alleged that 80 percent of American Muslim leadership is extremist, and yet he's never produced a single bit of evidence to back that up. That's the kind of thing that leads you to the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition and frankly, McCarthyistic hearings.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Saylor says King is stacking the deck against Muslims by calling witnesses who do not represent most Muslims in this country. Just look at the primary witness, he says - Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor in Phoenix who founded what Saylor calls an obscure group named the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser says of course Muslims have been radicalized. There have been 60 terror plots in the past two years.

ZUHDI JASSER: Just look at the arrests - from Portland to Baltimore, the Time Square bomber - so this is not just pie-in-the-sky discussion. This is a reality that we're going to have to deal with.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Jasser, whose group claims about 2,000 members, says America needs to understand the root cause of this violence, which he says is political Islam.

JASSER: That has as a goal to create Islamic states that want to put into place Shariah law, that give women third-class status, that give other faiths secondary status, that give moderate Muslims or critics of imams no voice.

SAYLOR: Dr. Jasser is fear-mongering.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Corey Saylor of CAIR.

SAYLOR: The vast majority of American Muslims are completely opposed to anything that would change the fundamental nature of the United States. The Constitution is the law of the land, and we like it that way.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Still, even Saylor acknowledges that some Muslims are swayed by radical ideas from abroad. Case in point: Anwar al-Awlaki. Since he moved to Yemen in 2004, the American-born cleric has been calling on Muslims to wage war against America.

ANWAR AL: Jihad against America is binding upon myself, just as it is binding on every other able Muslim.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Awlaki's YouTube lectures inspired several U.S.-based attackers, including Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood and Faisal Shahzad, who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. And he's cast a long shadow of suspicion.

Especially here at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Northern Virginia. Awlaki was an imam here before he left the country. Worshippers disavow Awlaki's views. Still, many feel there's been a surge of hostility toward their faith. Maura Yasin says Muslims are being singled out because of a few bad actors.

MAURA YASIN: These instances represent a minority of the Muslim population here. Just as the Unabomber or Eric Robert Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, these represent a minority of whichever group you want to pigeonhole them in.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And Muslims are not only being smeared, says Hussein Goal. They're being targeted as well.

HUSSEIN GOAL: It is no news. You know, it is no-brainer to our community here that we are under surveillance, and we are being watched - our emails, our phones and everything - you know, basically, that's what it is.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And yet police have to do something to prevent attacks, says another member, Tariq Nelson - even if that means keeping a close eye on his mosque.

TARIQ NELSON: We applaud it when it's white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the militia groups, and all these kind of people. You know, I mean, it's good for the goose but not good for the gander.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Johari Abdul Malik, who's an imam here, agrees. But he says Muslims are often the key to stopping terrorism. Just in the D.C. area, he says, it was Muslims who thwarted two recent plots.

JOHARI ABDUL MALIK: The guy on the Metro, it was somebody in our community who tipped off law enforcement. The five boys who went to Pakistan, it was their mothers and fathers that went to the imam and said: Imam, something is going on. The imam called one of our national Islamic organizations. That group said: We have to call the FBI right now.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Johari points to statistics that show that more than a third of all such plots were foiled with the help of Muslims - a figure that he hopes will come up in the hearing on Thursday.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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