Speaking before the House Homeland Security Committee, Zuhdi Jasser said the solution to a small minority in the Muslim-American community being radicalized into terrorists "is for Americans to see Muslims leading the charge against radical Islam." The president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy told committee members it is a "problem that we can only solve."
The hearing, the first in a series promised by Chairman Peter King, R.-N.Y., on radicalization among Muslim Americans, received sharp criticism before and during the event. House Democrats and some religious leaders charged the hearing stigmatized an entire community and should have been expanded to all forms of violent extremism.
A Southern Baptist religious freedom leader, however, encouraged Muslims to cooperate with the committee.
"I would advise the Muslim-American community to embrace these hearings and use them as an opportunity to separate themselves from the radical Islamists and to remind the American people that nearly 90 percent of the people who have been killed by the radicals have been Muslims who have refused to knuckle under to this death-cult understanding of Islam," said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The Muslim-American community needs to do everything it can to denounce radical jihadism, to separate themselves from it and to cooperate in every way possible with the authorities in exposing it when they find it in their midst."
King defended his decision on a day when the discussion was almost as much about the propriety of the hearing as its topic.
Some of the opposition to the hearing reached "paroxysms of rage and hysteria," King said in his opening statement. To fail to follow through on the hearings would be "a craven surrender to political correctness" and an abdication of the committee's responsibility to protect the United States, he said.
"There is no equivalency of threat between Al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen," King said. "Only Al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation."
Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., cited the Congressional Research Service in reporting to the committee there have been 43 "homegrown jihadist terrorist plots and attacks" since the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001. Of those, 22 have occurred since May 2009, he said.
In their statements, King and Wolf pointed to several examples of Muslim Americans who have been radicalized since 2001, including Nidal Hassan, the Army major who shot to death 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, and Faisal Shahzad, who unsuccessfully sought to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square last year. Defenders of the hearings said the leaders of the three Al Qaeda networks threatening the United States -- Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Shabab/Al Qaeda in East Africa and Al Qaeda Central -- are all led by Americans who were radicalized.
Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, Tenn., and Abdirizak Bihi of Minneapolis told the committee about family members who were radicalized with the assistance of mosque leaders.
Bledsoe said his son, Carlos, received a recommendation letter from a Nashville, Tenn., imam for a school in Yemen that served as a front for "radicalizing and training" westerners. Carlos Bledsoe returned to the United States and, in 2009, shot two soldiers outside an Army recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., killing one.
Bihi told the panel his nephew, Burhan Hassan, was radicalized, along with other Somali-American young men, at a Minneapolis mosque. Hassan and others disappeared in 2008, and the family learned later they were recruits of Al Shabab in Somalia, where Hassan soon was killed. The mosque leaders denied that Hassan and the others were missing and refused to aid their families, Bihi said.
"The testimony from the people whose children have been radicalized in American mosques is disturbing, and the responses the families received when they complained to the mosques were even more discouraging," said Land, who is one of nine members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Calling Islamist radicalization "the most important threat to American security" in this century, Jasser told the committee he does not know a Muslim personally who would not report a violent act that is about to occur. The act of violence "is a final step, but radicalization is a continuum," said the physician from Phoenix, Ariz.
"We're failing. We're not addressing this," said Jasser, who started his organization after the Sept. 11 attacks.
There is "a certain segment that is using our religion, hijacking it for a theo-political movement that is not only domestic, but it is global," Jasser said. "This is our homeland, and we want ... to begin, if you will, a counter-jihad ..."
Wolf told the committee the FBI has done an exceptional job at stopping terrorists before they strike in this country, but America "does not have an effective or coherent policy to thwart radicalization."
Rep. Keith Ellison, D.-Minn., a Muslim, criticized the hearing, which was titled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response." He told the panel he is concerned the focus "may increase suspicion of the Muslim-American community, ultimately making us all a little less safe."
"Specific individuals, including some who are Muslims, are violent extremists," he said. "However, these are individuals -- not entire communities."
Assigning the blame belonging to individuals to an entire group "is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating," Ellison said.
Lee Baca, sheriff of Los Angeles County, Calif., told the committee Muslims had worked well with his department.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was "overwhelmed by the number of Muslims who were ready to connect with law enforcement," Baca said. "Muslim-American community leaders in Los Angeles have not hesitated to put themselves in potentially uncomfortable positions to interact with local law enforcement."
Wolf singled out one organization -- the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- for its efforts to "stifle debate and obstruct cooperation with law enforcement officials." He is disturbed not only by CAIR's "connections to terrorist financing" but its "role in attacking the reputations of any who dare to raise concerns about domestic radicalization."
Among those condemning the series of hearings was a coalition of 20 religious organizations, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, American Baptist Churches USA, Sojourners, Interfaith Alliance, United Methodist Church and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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