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American Muslims Fear Demonization in Congress

Mark Lukens, a pastor at Bethany Congregational Church, holds a sign at the "Today, I Am A Muslim, Too" rally in New York City, March 6, 2011. The rally was held in response to the upcoming Congressional hearings to be led by Rep. Peter King.

The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, New York Congressman Peter King, will begin Congressional hearings on March 10 into what he calls the "radicalization" of American Muslims. King says he has an obligation to investigate what he claims is a real terrorist threat from certain elements of the Muslim community in the United States. But critics say the hearings could demonize millions of law-abiding Americans who make up that community.

Congressman King’s constituents gathered outside his Long Island office recently to voice their opinions on the radicalization hearings. As opponents sang a peace song, supporters countered with, "We support King! Another pro-King demonstrator shouted that the Koran encourages Muslims to kill infidels.

Among the supporters - constituent Richard Lazevnick. "We are letting all sorts of people in, whatever they believe," he said. "If you do not believe in the American way, in our government and system of laws, then you do not belong in the United States."

There are an estimated seven million Muslims in the United States. They include people from all walks of life, including Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress. He is scheduled to testify at the hearings.

Congressman King’s office did not respond to VOA, but his web site features a CNN story in which he repeats a controversial suggestion about the extent of American Muslim radicalization.

"In 2004, I said 80 percent of the mosques [in America] were controlled by extremists," King said. "That was based on testimony in 2000 from Sheikh Kabbani, who was testifying in a State Department hearing. Now, I do not know today, if it could be more than 80 percent, it could be less than 80 percent."

Services at the Masjid al-Abidin Mosque in Brooklyn, New York are piped through an outdoor speaker for all to hear. Among those attending is the Executive Director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, Zaheer Uddin, who rejects the 80 percent figure as a myth.

"There could be a few mosques. At least we do not know any of those mosques, if there are any," he said. "If Peter King has that knowledge, he should speak out about those specific mosques."

Uddin says only five percent of U.S. domestic terrorism is committed by Muslims, adding that his organization condemns their actions. And a recent Duke University study indicates U.S. authorities uncovered 48 out of 120 Muslim terrorist plots since 2001 thanks to tips from the Muslim community.

On Sunday, Jews and Christians joined Muslims on Times Square in New York to protest the radicalization hearings. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who is seeking to build an Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan, objects to Congressman King’s exclusive focus on Muslims and Islam.

"Extremism comes from all the faith traditions," he said. "There are American extremists and radicals as there are Muslim extremists and radicals. It is this cycle of radicalization that we have to bring an end to."

An FBI report confirms that U.S. domestic terror threats range from white supremacists and eco-terrorists to anti-government extremists and separatists. But King refuses to change the focus of his hearings. He says that they aim to show that overall Muslims are good Americans, but their leadership is not doing what it should.