Video: Hearing on radical Islam goes to extremes

  1. Closed captioning of: Hearing on radical Islam goes to extremes

    >>> now to the congressional hearing today that for a time appeared to blow up in the face of the man who gavelled it into session. new york republican congressman peter king admits he's obsessed with 9/11. he runs the homeland security committee in the house and he has wanted to hold hearings to root out radical islam in the u.s. but things did not go the way he planned. nbc's kelly o'donnell covered today's hearing on capitol hill . kelly , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. well, congressman king says the reaction is rabid and hysterical. but after the administration said al qaeda is trying to recruit inside the u.s., king says it's his duty to investigate. arriving with the extra security he requested, republican chairman peter king launched a preemptive strike against vocal and angry critics.

    >> there is nothing radical or unamerican in holding these hearings.

    >> reporter: for weeks king has been accused of discriminating against muslims by focusing only on islamic extremism inside the u.s.

    >> it's a back down -- political correctness.

    >> i don't see the benefit in stigmatizing, in finger pointing.

    >> reporter: democrats who tried to block the hearing even after it began say it played into enemy hands.

    >> this hearing focuses on american muslim community will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers.

    >> reporter: but no one expected what happened next.

    >> it's well known that --

    >> reporter: tears swept over minnesota democrat keith ellison , the first muslim elected to congress. crying as he spoke of a muslim paramedic killed september 11th .

    >> he bravely sacrificed his life to try to help others on 9/11.

    >> reporter: ellison said that fallen first responder had been viewed with suspicion because of his faith.

    >> his life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an american who gave everything for his fellow americans.

    >> reporter: a very different personal pain from a national father who testified that his son, charged with killing a soldier in arkansas, had converted to islam and was recruited through a local mosque and then sent to yemen.

    >> carlos ended up in a training camp run by terrorists.

    >> do the mosques know that they're responsible to the radicalization of your son?

    >> sure, they know. but they're waiting around to do it again to someone else's child.

    >> reporter: democrats repeatedly protested that this hearing was too narrow and should have included other extremist groups .

    >> the klan is a terrorist organization and has been over 100 years, sir. you have not suffered a cross burning .

    >> reporter: and democrats rejected king's assertion that some muslims refused to cooperate with law enforcement .

    >> muslims are here cooperating. they are doing what this hearing has suggested that they do not do.

    >> reporter: and that issue also gets sensitive because there was also evidence presented today that some muslim groups are discouraging muslim americans to come forward. brian.

    >> kelly o'donnell after a hot day on capitol hill in washington. kelly , thanks.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/10/2011 2:34:40 PM ET 2011-03-10T19:34:40

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman, gave emotional testimony Thursday to a House of Representatives committee hearing on radicalization in the U.S. Muslim community.

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Tearfully describing the story of a Muslim-American first-responder paramedic who died on September 11, 2001, Ellison criticized New York Republican Rep. Peter King for leading the controversial hearings that have reignited a national debate over how to combat a spate of home grown terrorism.

Muslims in America: Demographics and beliefs

"Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans," Ellison said, his voice breaking. "His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens."

"This committee's approach to violent extremism is contrary to American values and threatens our security," Ellison said. The congressman tried to hide his tears behind his papers and quickly left the room after his remarks.

The senior Democrat in the House, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, urged King and the committee to ensure that their investigation would not "blot the good name or the loyalty or raise questions about the decency of Arabs or Muslims or other Americans."

King insisted the hearing was the logical response to Obama administration warnings over a very real threat.

theGrio's 100: Keith Ellison, Muslim congressman

"To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee — to protect America from a terrorist attack," King said in his opening remarks.

Critics have compared the hearing to overly zealous investigations of communism in the 1950s that led to false accusations that destroyed careers.

"There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings," King said Thursday.

He pointed to Americans who went overseas where they joined militant groups, the attempt by a Saudi student caught in Texas as he was trying to build bombs and the failed attempt by a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen to detonate a car bomb in New York's bustling Times Square last year.

Slideshow: The many faces of Islam in America (on this page)

Melvin Bledsoe, whose son, Carlos, is charged with killing an Army private at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., testified about his son's conversion to Islam and his isolation from his family.

"Carlos was captured by people best described as hunters," Bledsoe said. "He was manipulated and lied to."

The Obama administration has tried to frame the discussion around radicalization in general, without singling out Muslims. King said that is just political correctness, since al-Qaida is the main threat to the United States.

Story: 'Islamic radicalization' hearing stirs hornets' nest

Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American from Minnesota, said his nephew, Burhan, turned radical and left for Somalia to fight with militants. In questions from Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., Bihi said he had been discouraged by mosque leaders from seeking answers about what became of his nephew and others who left for Somalia. The 18-year-old died in Somalia.

"If you do that, you're going to be responsible for the eradication of all mosques and Islamic society in North America," Bihi said, recounting what he was told. "You will have eternal fire and hell."

Story: Congress weighs threat from radical Islam in the U.S.

California Democratic Representative Jackie Speier, calling the hearing a "very skewed discussion," said the panel should have also spoken to witnesses from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Justice Department.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took a veiled swipe at King on Wednesday, saying the focus by law enforcement was on individuals rather than an entire community because "we don't want to stigmatize, we don't want to alienate entire communities."

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said, "We welcome congressional involvement in this issue."

"In the United States, we don't practice guilt by association," Carney added. "We believe Muslim-Americans are part of the solution."

Elsewhere at the Capitol, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also was scheduled to address the threat of homegrown terrorism Thursday. In his prepared remarks, Clapper says 2010 saw more plots involving homegrown Sunni Muslim extremists ideologically aligned with al-Qaida than in the previous year.

"Key to this trend has been the development of a U.S.-specific narrative that motivates individuals to violence," Clapper's remarks said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Congressional probe

Photos: Islam in America

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  1. Sin City may seem like a strange place for a mosque, but the Islamic Society of Nevada is one of at least six in Las Vegas. Here, Naim Shah Jr., Dr. Aslam Abdullah, head of the ISN, and Imam Fateen Seifullah have a discussion in the parking lot of the mosque, the only one in the city with a traditional minaret. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A woman wearing the traditional and conservative Muslim veil called a niqab crosses a street in uptown Manhattan. The wearing of the veils is based on a section of the Quran, Islam's holy book, instructing men and women to dress modestly. For women, that is generally interpreted as requiring them to cover everything except their face, hands and feet when in the presence of men they are not related to or married to. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Marwan Kamel, left, and Sahar Abu Saqer discuss a new song that they plan to play at their next show in Chicago. Both Kamel, who is of Syrian descent, and Saqer, who is of Palestinian descent, are Muslim Americans and members of the Al Thawra ("The Revolution" in Arabic), a punk band, and are both practicing Muslims. They are part of a burgeoning Islamic punk rock scene devoted to creating music related to Islam and the Middle East. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Marwan Kamel, leader of the Muslim punk band Al Thawra, performs the Maghreb prayer at the Islamic Community Center of Chicago. This prayer ends the fasting day during the holy month of Ramadan. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The top of New York's iconic Empire State Building is lit with green lights to honor the Muslim holiday of Eid, the biggest festival on the Muslim calendar, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. "The lighting will become an annual event in the same tradition of the yearly lightings for Christmas and Hannukah," according to a statement from the city issued in 2007, the first year the building was illuminated for Eid. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Shiite and Sunni Muslims protest against terrorism in Washington, D.C., denouncing countries like Saudi Arabia for sponsoring fundamentalist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sunni and Shia Islam are the two major denominations of Islam, and members hold different religious beliefs, practices, traditions and customs. Relations between the two have been marked by both cooperation and conflict, often with deadly violence. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Imams and rabbis from the largest cities in the U.S. share a bus in midtown Manhattan during the National Summit of Imams and Rabbis, an event jointly organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Worshippers attend a reading at the Al-Hikmah mosque in Queens, N.Y. The mosque is predominately attended by Muslims of Indonesian descent. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shimon Ibn Ibrahim photographs a Yemeni woman during a Thanksgiving celebration on Long Island, N.Y., at the home of Hofstra University Professor Dan Varisco. Ibrahim, who was raised by his adoptive parents as a Hassidic Jew, was attending his first Thanksgiving after converting to Islam. At the celebration, he met other Muslims from Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Indonesia and Iraq. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Mohamed Al Thaibani, who immigrated to the U.S. from Yemen, stands in his living room in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a portrait from his youth and other traditional furniture from Yemen in the background. Sixty-five percent of American Muslims are foreign-born, according to the Pew Research Center. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Muslim woman with dual U.S. and Yemeni citizenship protests against Yemen’s government outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Nov. 30, 2007. The woman was part of a group of Yemenis from the southern part of the country protesting what they say is unequal treatment by the government in the north. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Each Saturday, Shamse Ali, an imam at the 96th Street Mosque in New York City, teaches classes for new converts to Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S., with 21 percent of American Muslims being converts to the religion, according to the Pew Research Center. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ahmed Nasser, a New York Police Department community affairs officer, talks to a colleague in the basement of a police station. Nasser, a police detective of Yemeni descent, produced a movie intended to familiarize NYPD officers with the religion. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Saira Farooqui and Nausheen Ansari, two friends of Pakistani descent, shop together in New York City’s Soho district. Both were born and raised in the U.S. Though they are practicing Muslims, they don't usually cover up, but they do try to pray five times a day, as is called for in the Quran. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Sadam Ali trains at a gym on New York's Coney Island. Born in Brooklyn of Yemeni parents, Sadam represented the USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a member of the U.S. boxing team. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Kareem Salama, born of Egyptian parents, is a Muslim country singer originally from Oklahoma, He carries his guitar as he leaves his parents’ home in Richmond, Texas. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
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