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Q&A: Temecula imam speaks out about today's House hearing on Islam

Harmoush at a Temecula planning commission hearing, December 2010
Harmoush at a Temecula planning commission hearing, December 2010
Photo by Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Today marked the first hearing 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.

The hearings, which were broadcast on C-SPAN, began at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, not the best time for West Coast viewers. But those who have followed the story have strong opinions about the gist of the hearings nonetheless. Among them is Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, which last year drew heated opposition and protesters to the Riverside County wine region over its plans to build a larger facility a few miles away, by a Baptist church. The project received city approval recently.

Yesterday, Harmoush was among those who responded to a query from KPCC’s Public Insight Network inviting local Muslims and people of all faiths to share their take on today’s hearings. He agreed to allow his response to be published.

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?

A: This type of investigation assumed that the claim of radicalization is a fact, he just want(s) to know to what extent? Thus, It seems that I need to defend Muslims that they are not radicals! It is very disappointing to have a legislator instigating doubt and hatred instead of harmony and respect among our citizens of different religious convictions.

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?

A: There is no real evidence of radicalization among the Muslims population, but if there is any such acts, then education will be the way to clear such behavior and provide a true and correct guidance.

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?

A: No such event happened in my community.

Q: How has others' perception of your faith and culture changed for better and/or worse since 9/11?

A: After our trial in Temecula with radicals (non Muslims) who want to shut us down, many groups and citizen in the community come to know that we are just as good citizen(s) like any others regardless of our faith. So far our experience has been getting better and improving since 9/11.

Q: What is the media missing in its coverage of Muslim America? Of other religious communities? Whom should we call?

A: The media is not reporting on the many events, celebrations and achievements of the Muslim community in US, and when there is any reporting it is coupled with the negative images of the events in the rest of the world (the Middle East) and so on.

King defended the hearing today as necessary: "Al Qaeda is actively targeting the American Muslim community for recruitment," he said. He cited the Times Square bomb plot and the 2009 Ft. Hood, Texas shooting among his examples. The father of Carlos Bledsoe, who killed a member of the military at an Arkansas recruiting center in 2009, testified about his son's conversion.

Critics in the hearing drew comparisons with the persecution of supposed Communists during the mid-20th century led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress, broke down in tears as he told the story of a Muslim firefighter killed during the 9/11 attacks.

In light of the hearings, KPCC's Public Insight Network is seeking responses to the question, “If Congress called you to testify about your faith or congregation, what would you say?" Responses to our questions, including confidential ones, can be shared with KPCC here. Or feel free to comment below.