The news of last Friday's earthquake in Japan all but obscured what had been some of the biggest news of the previous day, the first hearing of a planned series in the House Committee on Homeland Security on the “extent of radicalization” among American Muslims, led by committee chair and New York Republican Rep. Peter King.
Muslim groups and other minority organizations condemned the hearings as xenophobic; King defended them as “absolutely essential.” Prior to the first hearing March 10 (the next one has not been scheduled), KPCC’s Public Insight Network sent out a series of questions to members of its audience, inviting Muslims and people of all faiths to share their take on the hearings.
By last Friday morning, the House hearing had quickly fallen off the news radar, but people continued to respond. The majority were Muslim, though Christian and Jewish respondents answered the questions as well. Here are some excerpts from their responses.
Q: King’s hearing is titled: “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” How, if at all, does King’s asking these questions in Congress change how you feel or speak about Islam?
Nadia Hassan, Villa Park, CA: It doesn't change anything at all for me. If anything, it enforces my speech and what I stand for, which is justice for all.
Yasmin Elhady, Orlando, FL: Muslims in America have undoubtedly carried the burden of explaining away the extremists in their faith who unleashed the violence and tragedy of September 11th, 2001, and beyond. Muslims in America constantly feel the pressure of defending their faith and helping people understand that Islam too has individual members who claim to follow the faith, but contort the teachings to serve their own selfish agenda. The hearings on "Radicalization" are an unfortunate setback for American Muslims who have been educating, informing, and cooperating with their American communities--both in law enforcement and in the civilian population.
Robert Salaam, Washington, D.C.: I feel that being singled out without empirical evidence brings dishonor to the United States Congress and Americans in general. As a Muslim who's a veteran and has served my country honorably, I just want to be treated like everyone else. Rep. King is now suggesting that my family and I need to be singled out for no reason of our own.
Q: What evidence, if any, do you see within your own faith community that members are exposed to radical political messages? How do you respond to such messages?
Sulaiman Syed, Rancho Cucamonga, CA: I have never seen or heard a radical agenda being propagated from the leaders of my mosques. However, I did notice that poor members of the Muslim community who may have faced financial hardship or criminal histories are more sympathetic to the cause of some extremist groups.
Masood Khan, Pasadena, CA: I have yet to see any members of my faith community openly or even secretly exposed to radical messages at the mosques I attend. The exposure I have to radical Islam is just about the same as any other American - we hear about stuff happening on the news just like everyone else when the news breaks. What I do hear more about in my community is a critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy, which is not "radical" in any way shape or form, but perhaps may be seen as such by people who don't see or understand the effects of U.S. foreign policy on the ground in Muslim countries.
Soheil Naimi, Los Angeles, CA: My community has been open about fighting terrorism. We do not leave room for any radical elements to come in and operate.
Q: Have you or members of your faith community been approached by law enforcement officers asking about purported political or radical messages from members or religious leaders? What happened?
Tarek Shawky, Pasadena, CA: We have had a government informant infiltrate a local mosque in Irvine, and the members of the community contacted law enforcement to advise them about the radical views of the informant who was trying to influence the community, all of whom condemned his hateful rhetoric.
Sireen Sawaf, Los Angeles, CA: A few years ago, I was part of the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress with Sheriff Leroy Baca, and part of the FBI's Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee, both committees that served as proactive partnerships between law enforcement and the Muslim American community. In these committees, we discussed a range of topics, from Muslim perceptions of law enforcement to civil liberty violations to efforts being made by Muslim American communities to ensure their mosques and organizations do not get hijacked by extremists. These are just two examples of proactive measures taken by Muslim Americans to protect the country, which flies in the face of Rep. King's accusations that Muslims have failed to do anything about protecting our country.
Q: How has others’ perception of your faith and culture changed for better and/or worse since 9/11?
Ryan Harrison, La Verne, CA: After 9/11, members of our congregation provided support to a local Islamic school. We stood outside their gates in support of their rights and to help them feel safe and secure.
Mustafa Umar, Corona, CA: Most people's perception has changed for the worse due to the propaganda and smear campaigns against Muslims and Islam. Some people, however, have seen through the false allegations and stand beside the Muslims and believe that combating Islamophobia will be the next civil rights struggle of our decade/century.
Q: What is the media missing in its coverage of Muslim America? Of other religious communities? Whom should we call?
Sulaiman Syed, Rancho Cucamonga, CA: I think media needs to cover the positive aspects of the Muslim community. We hold numerous interfaith meetings, food drives, drug and alcohol clinic groups, and community clean up events. We are not all extremists and terrorists.
Vicki Tamoush, Tustin, CA: You should cover the stories of young Muslims who face teasing and worse for having made the choice to follow their faith rather than be considered cool by their schoolmates. Ask young Muslim women how and when they made the decision to wear hijab. Ask young Muslim men whether they would seek out a future wife based on whether she wears hijab and if so, why. Ask them whether it's important to them that their kids be raised Muslim and why.
Sean Hennigan, North Hills, CA: Taking the words of any one person and ascribing them to an entire religion or culture is a damaging and divisive. We can look back and find mean spirited and crazy statements from people belonging to all religious groups on earth, bar none. How some people identify themselves is not always a reflection of their true beliefs or mental health, nor is it an indication that the group they identify themselves with would agree with them. There are fanatics of every race, creed and color Spreading fear instead of love is not a benefit to any of us or our future as a whole.
King has said the next hearing will take place later this year and focus on Muslims in prison.
Last week Multi-American published answers from an early response to the KPCC query from Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, which last year drew heated opposition and protesters over its plans to build a larger facility a few miles away.
KPCC's Public Insight Network is still seeking responses to the question, “If Congress called you to testify about your faith or congregation, what would you say?” Responses, including confidential ones, can be shared with KPCC here. Or feel free to comment below.