updated 3/7/2011 8:29:33 AM ET 2011-03-07T13:29:33

The White House is pushing a message of religious tolerance ahead of this week's congressional hearing on Islamic radicalism, which has sparked protests on grounds it unfairly singles out Muslims as potential terrorists.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

President Barack Obama sent his deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, on Sunday to a Washington-area mosque known for its cooperation with the FBI and its rejection of the al-Qaida brand of Islam.

"Being religious is never un-American. Being religious is quintessentially American," McDonough said.

The speech came just four days before the congressional hearing, which has already given rise to protests on grounds it is unfairly targeting Muslims. In New York's Times Square on Sunday, about 300 people gathered to speak out against the planned congressional hearing, criticizing it as xenophobic and saying that singling out Muslims, rather than extremists, is unfair and divides the nation.

Speaking to an interfaith forum of Muslims, Christians, Jews and other faiths, McDonough, the president's point-man on countering violent extremism, was clear: "We're all Americans."

The majority of the recent terror plots and attempts against the U.S. have involved people espousing a radical and violent view of Islam, making it difficult to ignore the role religion plays in this particular threat. But focusing too closely on Islam and the religious motives of these attempted terror attacks also threatens to alienate an entire community that has nothing to do with these violent beliefs.

New York Republican Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that is holding the hearings, thinks the Muslim community can and should do more to help law enforcement thwart these attacks.

Story: Obama, Calderon pledge cooperation on drug wars

"I don't believe there is sufficient cooperation" by American Muslims with law enforcement, King said Sunday on CNN. "Certainly my dealings with the police in New York and FBI and others say they do not believe they get the same — they do not give the level of cooperation that they need."

Two of the witnesses scheduled to testify Thursday are relatives of men who were radicalized and turned to terrorism. One is the uncle of a Somali man from Minneapolis — Burhan Hassan — who left the country in December 2008 to join a terror group in Somalia. The family believes Hassan was killed and buried in Somalia.

Another witness is the father of Carlos Bledsoe, who prosecutors say shot and killed a soldier at a military recruiting center in Arkansas in 2009. Bledsoe grew up in the Memphis, Tenn., area, converted to Muslim and changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad.

McDonough said Muslim Americans are not the problem, but part of the solution.

"No community can be expected to meet a challenge as complex as this alone," McDonough said. "No one community can be expected to become experts in terrorist organizations, how they are evolving, how they are using new tools and technology to reach our young people."

The Muslim community has been integral in tipping off law enforcement in many of the plots uncovered over the past two years. In 2009, the Muslim community came forward when they learned five Northern Virginia men had traveled to Pakistan with the hopes of joining a terrorist organization.

McDonough said agencies throughout the Obama administration would continue working to understand the process of radicalization. He also promised further outreach to Islamic communities in the United States, as well as efforts to dispel "misperceptions about our fellow Americans who are Muslim."

King's critics, including the first Muslim elected to Congress, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, say it is wrong to single out a religion.

"We're concerned about the breadth of this," Ellison said on CNN Sunday. "To say we're going to investigate ... a religious minority, and a particular one, I think is the wrong course of action to take."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: How stable is the country’s national security?

  1. Closed captioning of: How stable is the country’s national security?

    >>> eight years ago today, the department of homeland security was created in the aftermath of the september 11 attacks . nearly a decade later, are we safer? i asked that question of homeland security secretary janet napolitano and her predecessor tom ridge . secretary napolitano is now in the studio. let's pick up where we were discussing this morning, are we safer? what is the biggest threat now? is it al qaeda ? what is the most frightening threat to the homeland?

    >> well, a, we are safer, but, b, the threats we are facing are probably as widespread as any we have seen since before 9/11. and the nature of terrorism has changed. we don't see the huge conspiracy to weaponize planes and fly them into the world trade center or the pentagon. what we see are smaller activities, some emanating from al qaeda ap, for example yemen. some emanating from right here at home. it's more widespread, it's more diffuse and difficult to deal with.

    >> i know you can't talk about current cases, but you've got lone wolves , the saudi student who comes here with his own notion of jihad according to the indictment and now being investigated in lubbock, texas and that was a coordination of local, state, federal.

    >> that's the kind of evolution we have seen in homeland security , that it can't be just one department, no matter how large that 2kedepartment is. it's a shared responsibility with our state and local governments .

    >> you rely on intelligence from allies and others cooperating agencies abroad, the saudis alerted us to that cargo situation a few years back. we're seeing a complete revolution and evolution. traditional countries, leaders, egypt , now libya , disappearing before our eyes. how does that affect your ability to get information that we have been getting often from totalitarian regimes, frankly where you have agencies that do a very good job as partners in counter terrorism .

    >> well, i would say that our counter terrorism efforts remain as robust as before, that they are, you know, widespread and that we continue to work with our allies, with our friends to make sure we have good counter intelligence .

    >> but at the same time, in egypt , the mubarak government does not exist, the army is still there. in libya , one of the things that we -- one of the reasons why we rewarded gadhafi, the previous administration did with normalized relations was that he was ending his terrorist activities , getting off that bad list and also being potentially helpful.

    >> i think it's important to remember that neither egypt nor libya are al qaeda or al qaeda related issues. the changes there are changes that are democratic in nature, they are free loving if you want to use that phrase in nature. so this is very different than say something that shows the strength of an al qaeda .

    >> borders have disappeared and all kinds of law enforcement issues have disappeared. do we have to change what we do in terms of incoming flights from that part of the world? do we have to increase our security operations? because you're not going to be getting passenger lists as effectively when you've got countries that are in chaos.

    >> let me just say that we're always changing some of those operations in part so they can never be predictable. and i think some of the changes we're making are not seen by passengers. so let me just stop right there.

    >> one of the things that we have seen is 28 people reported dead in mexico just over this past weekend, as the drug war continues. and two of the most recent victims, one fatally was the i.c.e. agent, the immigrations and customs agent , what do we no in recent days since the arrests?

    >> this is jim zapata in mexico , we have been working closely with the justice department to find the assailants and bring them to justice. arrests have been made in mexico . and in addition, we have been conducting a number of operations around the united states dealing with the zedas, which is one of the drug cartels and some of of the other cartels as well.

    >> one of the guns reportedly came from texas that killed the agent?

    >> there are indictments, my understanding is that are relative to the guns and the guns used in the crime, yes.

    >> can we do a better job of that? what should we be doing?

    >> i think that investigation needs to proceed along its way, how did that gun move to that crime? and that will be the case. but in general, we need to be policing our southbound efforts. we started that about 18 months ago at the department of homeland security , dramatically increasing our seizure of weapons going into mexico , that's one of the practical things that we can do under the current law.

    >> the mexican president caldron is coming to see president obama this week. what more should we will expecting from them? we're clearly going to see complaints from them that the guns are going from north to south?

    >> we want to continue supporting president calderon. the battles against the cartel are at a dangerous point, a tipping point if you will and it's important that we keep at it otherwise these cartels are going to continue to grow just on the other side of our border.

    >> janet napolitano , eight years after the creation of this department, there has been progress.

    >> much.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments