BY VOA NEWS – A controversial hearing on the threat posed by radicals in the American Muslim community is highlighting the deep divisions among U.S. lawmakers.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King, a Republican, opened Thursday’s hearing, warning al-Qaida is making a concerted effort to target and radicalize young Muslims in the U.S.
King also rejected criticism that the hearing unfairly singled out Muslims, and said there was nothing “radical or un-American” about the hearing. He said reaction to the hearing has ranged from disbelief to “rage and hysteria.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Representative Bennie Thompson voiced concern about the hearing, saying it would be used by those “who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers.”
King’s assertions were also challenged by Democratic Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.
In emotional testimony, Ellison said he worried the hearing would only help blame the entire American Muslim community for the acts of individuals, calling such an approach wrong and ineffective.
The committee also heard from two relatives of young men who embraced extremism.
One witness, a Somali American, told the committee about his nephew, who joined Islamic militants in Somalia and was killed there. The other says his son converted to Islam during college, traveled to Yemen, and was later arrested for the shooting death of a U.S. soldier at a recruiting station in Arkansas.
Another witness, Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor from the state of Arizona, who is Muslim, testified that radicalization occurs over time, and that the root cause of the problem needs to be addressed.
During the hearing several lawmakers criticized a prominent Muslim organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR was not invited to testify, but issued a statement criticizing chairman King for alleging that groups like CAIR are controlled by extremists and encourage American Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
At the hearing, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca praised Muslim groups in his area, including CAIR, for helping law enforcement during investigations. Baca said he thought the hearing could be helpful in the fight against extremism.
Congress has previously held hearings on homegrown terrorism and the threat from radicalized Muslims, but none made Muslim terror the sole focus. Thursday’s hearing was titled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has praised the Muslim community, saying its members have been crucial to “disrupting plots that otherwise might have occurred.”
There are about 7 million Muslims in the United States.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.