TOPICS > Politics

Congressional Hearing on Radicalization of U.S. Muslims Draws Ire, Praise

March 10, 2011 at 6:38 PM EDT
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called to order a Homeland Security Committee hearing on the radicalization of Muslims within the United States to much praise, criticism and intense interest. Witnesses included the first Muslim elected to Congress and the Los Angeles County sheriff. Margaret Warner recaps the controversial hearing.

JIM LEHRER: And to a U.S. House hearing that’s sparked a national debate.

Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: The line outside the Homeland Security Committee room stretched down the halls, a sign of the intense interest today’s hearing generated from the moment it was announced.

REP. PETER KING (R-N.Y.), Homeland Security Committee chairman: The Committee on Homeland Security…

MARGARET WARNER: Right at the start, committee Chairman New York Republican Peter King rejected criticism of the focus on one religious group.

REP. PETER KING: Let me make it clear today that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward — and they will. To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee to protect America from a terrorist attack.

MARGARET WARNER: King pointed to a spate of homegrown terror cases in recent years in which American Muslims have been accused: last year’s attempted bombing in Times Square; the failed plot to attack the New York City subway system in 2009; and the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings that killed 13.

Indeed, this past weekend, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough echoed what others in the administration have said: that al-Qaida is actively trying to recruit U.S. citizens.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, U.S. deputy national security adviser: They make videos, create Internet forums, even publish online magazines, all for the express purpose of trying to convince Muslim-Americans to reject their country and attack fellow Americans.

MARGARET WARNER: But appearing as a witness, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, himself a Muslim, objected to the premise of the hearing, saying it was tarring Muslims with a broad brush.

He told of a man who rushed into the Twin Towers on 9/11 to save others, but was for a time a suspect himself.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-Minn.): Mohammed 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 ethic group or just a member of a religion but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

MARGARET WARNER: Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, agreed but said the Muslim community needs to acknowledge there’s a significant problem with radicalization.

ZUHDI JASSER, American Islamic Forum for Democracy: You know, listen, I’m Muslim and I realize that it’s my problem, and I need to fix it. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

So we can close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can call everybody a bigot or Islamophobic to even talk about it. But you’re not going to solve the problem, and the problem is increasing exponentially.

MARGARET WARNER: The main panel also included two fathers whose sons were recruited by radical groups. Melvin Bledsoe’s son Carlos has been charged with killing an Army private outside an Arkansas recruiting station. He warned other Muslim-American young people are at risk.

MELVIN BLEDSOE, father of Carlos Bledsoe: This is a big elephant in the room. Our society continues not to see it. This wrong called political correctness, you can even call it political fear, fear of stepping on special minority population toe, even as a segment of that population wants to stamp out America and everything we stand for.

I must say that we — I must say that we are losing American babies. Our children are in danger.

MARGARET WARNER: Still, much of the members’ comments focused not on what turns young people into radicals, but on whether even holding such a hearing was appropriate.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-Texas): But, you see, it already has been tainted, this hearing. There are no loud signs of reasoning that are coming through this hearing. The reason is because it has already been classified as an effort to demonize and to castigate a whole broad base of human beings.

I cannot stand for that.

REP. PAUL BROUN (R-Ga.): The focus of this hearing today is not the Islamic religion. It’s Islamicists. It’s the radical jihadists. It’s the radicalization of our youth, as Mr. Bledsoe and Mr. Bihi have talked about.

And I think it’s absolutely critical that we as a nation focus upon doing exactly what I was taught in the United States Marine Corps, to know your enemy.

MARGARET WARNER: For his part, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca told the committee that from what he sees, Muslim-Americans are concerned and willing to cooperate with law enforcement.

LEROY BACA, Los Angeles County sheriff: The truth is that 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.

MARGARET WARNER: The hearing adjourned after four hours, but Chairman King has said he plans to hold additional sessions in the future.