Monday, 7 March 2011

White House Seeks to Allay Muslims’ Fears on Terror Hearings

MUSLIMS-articleLargeAs a Republican congressman prepares to open hearings on the threat of homegrown Islamicterrorism, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser visited a mosque here on Sunday to reassure Muslims that “we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few.”The White House billed the speech by the adviser, Denis McDonough, as a chance for the administration to lay out its strategy for preventing violent extremism. But the timing was no accident;
Mr. McDonough was in effect an emissary from the White House to pre-empt Representative Peter King of New York, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, who has promised a series of hearings beginning Thursday on the radicalization of American Muslims.

“In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association,” Mr. McDonough told an interfaith, but mostly Muslim, audience of about 200 here at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, known locally as the Adams Center. “And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with us all.”

Mr. McDonough made no explicit mention of the hearings or Mr. King. But his speech came on a day when the back-and-forth over Mr. King’s plans crescendoed, from the airwaves of Washington’s Sunday morning talk shows to the streets of Manhattan to this northern Virginia suburb, a region packed with Muslim professionals, many of whom are extremely wary of Mr. King and his plans.

In Washington, Mr. King, who represents parts of Long Island, faced off on CNN with Representative Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and the only Muslim in Congress. Mr. Ellison said he would testify at Mr. King’s hearing on Thursday despite his deep conviction that it is wrong for Congress to investigate a particular religious minority.

In New York, 500 people demonstrated near Times Square to protest the hearings and call on Mr. King to expand his witness list to include other groups. 

“That’s absolute nonsense,” Mr. King said in a telephone interview, adding that Al Qaeda is trying to radicalize Muslims and that that effort is the leading homegrown terrorism threat. “The threat is coming from the Muslim community,” he said, “the radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?”

As the Times Square demonstrators held up placards declaring “Today I am a Muslim Too,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is a co-founder of a project to develop a mosque near ground zero, addressed the crowd.

“To single out Muslim Americans as the source of homegrown terrorism and not examine all forms of violence motivated by extremist belief — that, my friends, is an injustice,” Rabbi Schneier said.

Mr. King and Mr. McDonough each took pains on Sunday to say that he had no quarrel with the other. “We welcome any involvement in the issue,” Mr. McDonough said of the hearings. “It’s an important issue.”

Mr. King said that he and Mr. McDonough had spoken recently and that he did not disagree with any element of Mr. McDonough’s speech at the mosque.

For weeks, Muslims have been expressing deep anxiety over the hearings, which Mr. King has titled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.”

So far, witnesses he has identified include Mr. Ellison; Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Republican from Virginia; and Zudhi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. (Mr. Jasser made headlines last year when he was publicly critical of Mr. Obama’s statement supporting the right of Muslims to build the proposed mosque and Islamic center near ground zero.)

In addition, Mr. King said on Sunday, he will call as witnesses two relatives of people who have been radicalized. He would not name them, but said one had a nephew who was murdered, and the other had a son who committed “horrible crimes.” He said they would detail “how this happened, what it did to their families, what it did to the community, how this originated in mosques.”

The congressman said additional hearings — he is not certain how many there will be — would most likely focus on topics like radicalization in prisons and the flow of foreign money into mosques. But because Mr. King has not been specific about his plans, rumors are swirling. 

“Everybody I talk to worries about it,” Mr. Ellison said during his Sunday morning appearance with Mr. King on “State of the Union” on CNN. He added, “It’s absolutely the right thing to do for the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to investigate radicalization, but to say we’re going to investigate a — a religious minority and a particular one, I think, is the wrong course of action to take.” 

Yet for many Muslim leaders, the initial outrage and fear is giving way to a determination to participate in the testimony and shape the outcome. Rizwan Jaka, a board member of the Adams Center here, said leaders of mainstream mosques were eager to testify about their cooperation with law enforcement. 

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