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Controversial Hearings into American Muslims and Radicalization to Continue

Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 10, 2011

Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 10, 2011

A congressional committee on Wednesday will hold the second in a series of controversial hearings on radicalism within the Muslim community in the United States.

Representative Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, has titled the hearing “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons.”

King says imprisoned terrorists and Muslim chaplains are instilling radical views among inmates, some of whom have gone on to launch attacks or tried to join terrorist groups abroad.

He said the hearing “will be a deliberate and thoughtful examination of an issue that is too important for our security to ignore.”

The hearings have provoked heated controversy. Critics compare them to the Red Scare of the 1950s when thousands of Americans were questioned on suspicion of communist sympathies.

Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, testified at the first hearing in March that all Americans belonging to his faith are being smeared.

"This committee's approach to this particular subject, I believe, is contrary to the best of American values," Ellison said.

But Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician who also testified, disagreed.

"I as a Muslim, I need this conversation," he said. "If we are going to fix this cancer that is within the whole viable, wonderful, beautiful faith that I practice, we need to be able to talk about it. It is like trying to treat cancer without saying the word."

Dr. Jasser is a former U.S. Navy officer who in the 1990s served as staff physician for Congress. He founded a group called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and said in an interview that young Muslims are being told by their community leaders that America should adapt to Islam, rather than vice versa.

That, he warned, is "creating a concept within our Muslim youth that we are visitors here and that this country does not belong to us."

One case he cited at the first hearing was that of U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan. He is accused of shooting and killing 13 people at a base in Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009.

Dr. Jasser's appearance at that hearing won praise from Republicans. He has been a frequent guest on conservative talk shows, where he comments on Muslim and Arab affairs.

On a recent visit to Washington, Dr. Jasser met with one of the most conservative members of Congress, Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, who greeted him warmly.

"Zuhdi, good to see you brother!"

Both men are harsh critics of groups in Washington that lobby on behalf of American Muslims, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America.

"They are in denial," Dr. Jasser says. "They are in denial of the fact that simply the violent part, that we are in a battle against violent extremism, that as long as we are nonviolent these groups are not a threat."

Dr. Jasser says these organizations have their origins in fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, and share a common goal of wanting to make Islamic law dominant.

Spokesmen for the groups say the allegations are unfounded.

"We issued statements after statements - you can go to our website and look into that - condemning Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood," says ISNA's Mohamed El Sanousi. "This organization has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood."

Both organizations say they have had far-reaching cooperation on terrorism with American law enforcement authorities. But El Sanousi says Representative King refused to let CAIR or ISNA have a constructive role in the hearings.

"The people that he brought to testify, I don't think they are experts in national security, and I don't think they are actually experts on the American Muslim community," he said.