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Civil Rights, Muslim Advocacy Groups Criticize Focus of Islamic Radicalization Hearings in Congress

Representative Peter King during a news conference on Capitol Hill (file photo)

Civil rights groups and advocates for U.S. Muslims are strongly criticizing a congressional hearing planned for Thursday on the "extent of radicalization of the American Muslim community." House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King says the hearings are necessary to investigate a real threat to national security.

A coalition of American Muslim advocacy organizations and civil rights groups held a news conferene in Washington Wednesday to express their concern on the eve of the first of a series of hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee on radicalization in the American Muslim community. Michael Macleod Ball of the American Civil Liberties Union says the scope of the hearings should be broader.

"We think the frame for the hearing is all wrong," said Michael Macleod Ball. "It is bringing the focus for investigation and suspicion on the entire Muslim community. Whereas the focus should be on domestic terrorist acts generally. What are the commonalities among all domestic terrorist acts generally? Let's look at this from a fact-based, evidence-based perspective and draw some conclusions that might help us reduce the threat of domestic terrorism."

Macleod-Ball pointed out that that there are a broad range of domestic terrorist groups, including white supremacists.

King, who is from New York state, has unleashed a firestorm of protests on the focus of his hearings, including criticism by Christian and Jewish faith leaders. Speaking on ABC News, King defended the framework he chose.

"This is where the threat is coming from," said King. "This isn't just me saying this. On Sunday, when Denis McDonough, the President's deputy national security advisor gave his speech at a Virginia mosque on Sunday he said, 'al Qaida has changed its tactics. It is now making a determined effort to recruit and radicalize within the muslim American community.' He didn't mention any other community. He gave the speech to Muslims, saying that is what al Qaida is attempting to do. And to me, it might be politically correct, but it makes no sense at all, to be talking about other kinds of so called extremism when the major threat to the United States today is al Qaida and al Qaida is attempting to recruit in this country."

In media interviews, King has said that American Muslim leaders have not cooperated enough with law enforcement officials to report suspicious activity.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he disagreed with this, and that leaders and members of the Muslim community have been crucial to thwarting attacks.

"Tips that we have received, information that has been shared has been critical to our efforts to disrupting plots that otherwise might have occurred," said Eric Holder.

Corey Saylor of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the hearings are based on false premises.

"Congressman King has made a number of anti-Muslim statements," said Corey Saylor. "So he has said things like there are too many mosques in America, he has implied that American Muslims aren't real Americans when it comes to countering violent extremism. And then what he has also done is that he puts out a number of false allegations. So he says 80 to 85 percent of the American Muslim leadership is extremist and not cooperating with law enforcement. And there are facts out there that prove that wrong."

There are an estimated seven million Muslims in the United States, including Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is set to testify at the hearing Thursday.