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Coalition urges halt to House hearings on Muslim radicalization

Religious and civil rights groups say the hearings headed by Republican Rep. Peter T. King will demonize Muslim Americans. King remains unmoved.

February 03, 2011|By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — A coalition of 51 religious and civil rights groups is calling on congressional leaders to stop upcoming hearings on Muslim extremism in the U.S. or have the investigation refocused to include other hate groups.

The coalition, working with the San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates legal organization, said the March hearings led by Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, would demonize Muslim Americans and persuade many of them not to cooperate with police.

"Our first preference is for him to kibosh the whole thing," Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said Wednesday. "As it is framed now, the hearings are targeting an entire faith community, and that's not a proper exercise of congressional authority."

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, wrote to King on Tuesday suggesting that he broaden the scope of the investigation to look at other violent groups, such as neo-Nazi organizations.

"In the final analysis," he told King, "the ideology of a bomb-maker matters less than the lethal effects of his creation."

But King remained unmoved. Asked whether he would respond to a letter Muslim Advocates sent to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), King said: "I don't believe it warrants an answer.... I am too busy preparing for the hearings."

King appears to have Boehner's support. Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said the speaker would not respond to the letter from Muslim Advocates. "Rep. King is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee," Steel said.

In an interview last month defending the hearings, King said "it would be irresponsible of me not to have this investigation" because, he believes, Muslim Americans are becoming increasingly radicalized and often do not cooperate with police.

But the letter from Muslim Advocates argues otherwise. It was endorsed by groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Amnesty International and the Muslim Bar Assn. in Southern California and Chicago.

"The Committee on Homeland Security should focus on keeping us safe, rather than engaging in fear mongering and divisive rhetoric that only weakens the fabric of our nation and distracts us from actual threats," they wrote.

Also Wednesday, family members of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks said they were "appalled" that King would not broaden the hearings.

"Muslim Americans are just that: members of our American family," said the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. "Singling them out for scrutiny is not only poor policy, it is un-American."

A study by a terrorism watchdog group showed the number of Muslim Americans who committed or were arrested for terrorist acts declined sharply from 47 in 2009 to 20 last year.

"These crimes are being perpetrated by a handful of people whose actions are denounced and dejected by virtually all the Muslims living in the United States," said David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which wrote the study.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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