Reps. Ellison, McCaul Weigh Radicalization Concerns Against Singling Out Islam

Margaret Warner talks to Homeland Security committee member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim member of Congress, about Thursday's controversial hearing about the radicalization of Muslims within the United States.

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    For two different perspectives from congressmen involved in today's hearing, we're joined now by Republican Michael McCaul of Texas — he's a member of the Homeland Security Committee — and Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress. He served as a witness today, as we just saw.

    Welcome to you both.

    Congressman Ellison, even before this hearing began, you branded the whole premise of it as McCarthyistic. After taking part today, is that what it felt like to you?


    Well, I would still challenge the basic premise of the hearing.

    I think that when you look at a serious, societally-wide program like violent extremism, but then to associate it with only one religious community or one racial group or one ethnicity, I think that that is the very heart of scapegoating.

    And I think that we — our history with scapegoating has never been good. Japanese internment comes to mind. But I do think there is a way, or could have been a way to have a hearing like this that could have been effective.

    And that would start with having a lot of witnesses who had real law enforcement experience, who offered some understanding from a scientific standpoint on something we could build policy on.

    I want to say that the individuals who testified at the hearing, except for Sheriff Baca, are people who I do sympathize with. And I think that it's important for us to acknowledge their pain and what they went through.

    But we need information that we can build policy around. And heartfelt anecdotes, unfortunately, though interesting and important, simply are not what we need to build policy. After all, we're Congress. We make the laws. And we should have some good, solid law enforcement expertise in order to achieve this task.


    Congressman McCaul, how did it feel — feel to you? Did you learn anything from today's hearing about the extent or causes of radicalization among young Muslims?


    I did.

    I think, first of all, this is an important dialogue, I think, for the nation to have. As Mr. Bledsoe said, whose son was radicalized, it is the pink elephant in the room. And I think we should be talking about it.

    I was — and let me say, also, that the committee is not targeting the Muslim community. And I respect Congressman Ellison a great deal. It's al-Qaida that is targeting our Muslim youth in this country and attempting to radicalize them. And I think that's what we were trying to point out, were the 27 terror plots over the last two years involving radical extremism that we need to be paying close attention to as the next generation of terrorists.

    And so I thought that the father and the uncle's testimony was very emotional and very persuasive in terms of these two mosques that, unfortunately, perverted the Muslim faith, took them in the wrong direction, essentially held them hostage. And — and they ended up in Somalia and Yemen.

    One was shot in the head in Somalia, and the other one returned from Yemen to kill two U.S. soldiers. And the father and uncle were very passionate about the fact that their children changed, and they couldn't do anything about it. And I think that's the important point here.


    Congressman Ellison, do you agree that there — do you see it as a significant problem in the Muslim-American community that needs to be addressed?


    Well, one of the points I made in my own testimony is that I voted in favor of Jane Harman's bill to study violent extremism. The Harman bill didn't single out one religion.

    But — so, of course, I see it as a very serious problem. Look, Faisal Shahzad did try to blow up fellow Americans in Times Square. So did Najibullah Zazi try to harm Americans, as well as Nidal Hasan did kill members of our society.

    So, look, obviously it's a serious problem. But so is Jared Loughner a problem. So is Timothy McVeigh a problem. So are the people who killed citizens at Virginia Tech and Columbine and so many other places a problem.

    When a citizen goes from being law-abiding to being willing to kill for ideology or religion or some set of ideas, this is something we must pay close attention to. And, in my opinion, we don't know nearly enough about it. So, in my opinion, obviously, this is a very important topic. I'm focused on it. I have spoken on it. I have written on it. And I continue — and I will continue to be engaged.


    So, what did you both hear — and I will begin with you, Congressman McCaul — about why it is occurring in this community and what more could be done that would be more effective in countering it?


    Well, in a lot of these cases, whether it's Major Hasan, as Congressman Ellison mentioned, a lot of the common threads here are the cleric in Yemen Awlaki. He has had a lot of communications.

    He had it with Hasan before he killed the 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, north of my district, and many others. And then there is a radicalization taking place, whether it's through e-mails or over the Internet with these jihadist websites, which the attorney general and Secretary Napolitano have agreed is an imminent danger to the United States.

    And so, I think what we need to do is to get a better grasp on who are the bad apples in our society that we can focus on. I think where the congressman and I would agree is that's going to come through not ostracizing the Muslim community but rather bringing them in.

    I worked in the Justice Department, and the outreach here is critically important, that we work with the Muslim community as a partner, not in opposition to them, to work together to identify the problem areas.


    Congressman Ellison?


    Yes, I do agree. I think that Mike is right about that.

    In my own city of Minneapolis, we have seen law enforcement officials reaching out to the Muslim community, particularly the Somali community, and we have seen people try to build trust, so that folks will come forward and they will talk about what needs to be talked about to protect our community.

    Here's the reality. We need to establish a level of trust, so that the community feels that the criminals are the target, not the community. That was one of the unfortunate aspects of the way this hearing was framed.

    But I tell you this. I do think that building trust is critically important. Being on the websites, making sure we know what the Internet traffic is, is important. And I also think it's critically important to really, in the Muslim context, to attack the ideology that people like Anwar al-Awlaki use.

    And I think that the Muslim community can be very helpful in refuting what they claim the Koran and Islamic doctrine say about these issues.


    All right, and that takes us right to the last — to my last question — we don't have a lot of time — but that Congressman King had raised, and he said again yesterday, that from law enforcement people he talks to, there isn't enough cooperation from the Muslim-American community.

    The sheriff today seemed to suggest otherwise. Where did today's hearing leave that question in your mind, fairly briefly, if you can?


    I think the answer is we have a lot of work to do. There are some groups that we pointed out today who tell the Muslim community, you know, lock your doors, don't talk to the FBI. And I think that's the wrong approach.

    This should be a mutual partnership. I have always said — and we were — I have always said the moderate Muslim is the most effective weapon against the radical extremists. And I think we need to partner with the moderate Muslim, whether it be in this country or overseas in our efforts as well to defeat the terrorists.

    And so — and I think Pete King talked a little bit about political correctness. And I think, as Mr. Bledsoe mentioned, the pink elephant in the room, I think we have to look at this in a colorblind way, that there is a problem here and an issue we have got to deal with.


    Let me get — and, Congressman Ellison, briefly on that point, law enforcement.


    Well, let me just say that — let me just say this.

    The whole point about the political correctness I don't feel is a valid point. I often fear that people throw political correctness out because they want to stereotype, but they don't want to be accused of stereotyping. I don't think there's any danger of political correctness here.

    But what I also want to say, though, is when it comes to the issue of law enforcement, at the end of the day, the Muslim community has been amazingly engaged and helpful. A number of the studies that came out show that upwards of 40 percent of the reported tips come from the Muslim community.

    The Muslim community has been instrumental in thwarting efforts committing terrorist acts. I don't think we should confuse cooperation with law enforcement and abdication of people's, Americans' basic civil rights. That include people's right to seek counsel if they're going to be talked to directly and they're the target of an investigation.

    That's something I don't think we should ask any American to give up, but absolutely, cooperation is essential.


    All right, Congressman Ellison, Congressman McCaul, thank you both.


    Thank you.