Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Leroy Baca (R), Sheriff of Los Angeles County, Melvin Bledsoe (L), and Abdirizak Bihi (C), director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center testify before the Committee on Homeland Security holds the first in a series of hearings on radicalization in the American Muslim community, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 10, 2011.
For the second time in two years, a member of Congress has attacked the sheriff of Los Angeles County over his association with a Muslim organization. This time it was a different congressman, but the same Homeland Security Committee.
Democrats and Republicans painted very different pictures of today’s U.S. House Homeland Security hearing on radicalization among American Muslims. Democrats questioned the committee’s focus on one religion. Republican committee chairman Peter King of New York said it was the committee’s responsibility to protect America from future terrorist attacks, not to surrender to political correctness.
Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana challenged one witness, Dr. Zuhadi Jasser, who complained about groups that advise Muslims not to talk to the FBI without an attorney.
Sanchez asked whether he would "assert the privilege of an attorney, would you not?"
Jasser said, "not all the time no. I would not." The founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy said he's not "constantly under fear from the government" and had "nothing to hide. Now, I’m not saying you don’t have civil rights to protect. That is part of the discussion. But when that discussion that you just went through dominates the entire discourse about Muslims in America, it creates a narrative that this country is against you and it creates a narrative that it’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim."
The African-American father of Carlos Bledsoe also testified. He described how his “happy go lucky” child went away to college and returned a radicalized Muslim who even removed a picture of Martin Luther King from the wall. The son, now known as Abdulhakim Muhammed, faces the death penalty for allegedly shooting soldiers outside a military recruitment center in Arkansas a year and a half ago.
L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca testified about the department’s many years of outreach to Muslims. But Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack of Minnesota questioned one organization Baca works with, the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Cravaack said the FBI had identified “all attendees” at a 1993 Philadelphia meeting – including two founders of CAIR – as members of the militant Palestinian Hamas party. He suggested Baca was "dealing with a terrorist organization." He told the sheriff he was "trying to get you to try to understand they might be using you, sir, to implement their goals."
Sheriff Baca replied, "thank you for asking me that question, but it sounds more like a possible accusation." He said, "if the FBI has something to charge CAIR with, bring those charges forward and try them in court and deal with them in that way ... if CAIR is an organization that is a quote 'criminal organization,' prosecute ‘em."
At another Homeland Security Committee meeting last year, another Republican congressman accused Baca of harboring anti-Israel sentiments because of his attendance at CAIR fundraisers. In both cases, Baca refused to back down.
Baca said that after years of dialogue, the Muslim community is reaching out to law enforcement with “emerging confidence.” He warned members about labeling Muslim groups as either cooperative or uncooperative. "The truth is that Muslims are just as independent, just as feisty, just as concerned about safety. They certainly don’t want their homes or their mosque blown up. And thereby as individuals, they have been doing things with local law enforcement as individuals without the cover of an organization."
Baca said fighting terrorism is like fighting gang violence – law enforcement needs information and needs it early.