CAIR comes under fire during Peter King hearings on radical Islam
As the hearing stretched into its third hour, one of the few outbursts from the room came as Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) criticized the event as "grossly incomplete."
"We are seeing a very skewed discussion. While I think these anecdotes are interesting, I don't believe these are experts," Speier said. A low wave of boos and hisses came from the room. Speier slammed the hearing for its lack of any law enforcement officials or representatives from the FBI or the Homeland Security Department -- except for Los Angeles Sheriff Leroy Baca, called by the ranking Democrats.
She said that in addition to investigating Islamic radicalism, the committee might as well be investigating the Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization. She also drew a parallel between the witnesses on the panel and her own experience as a practicing Roman Catholic.
"I'm no more prepared to speak about the pedophilia in the Catholic church because I am a practicing Roman Catholic," Speier said. "And I think we do need to have experts come here to speak on homegrown terrorism in this country."
"I'm not sure who else you'd like to solve this problem, but I think it's only Muslims that can do it," responded Zuhdi Jasser, the Muslim doctor who runs a small nonprofit group. Jasser emphasized the importance of the "intellectual lay community" in bringing about change throughout history, including in reforming the Church of England.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) also criticized the hearing as "theater" and the congressional equivalent of "reality TV." She said she was "appalled" by the idea that "we have not gotten to a substantive conversation about how we define terrorism, how we define the whole idea of radicalization."
Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), a freshman, said that unlike Speier, he believed that those on the panel were experts and commended them for their "courage" and "conviction."
At one point, Jasser was asked what he hoped the hearing might accomplish. "I hope we see this as the beginning of a dialogue," Jasser said. "We have to realize that there are many Islams out there." He added that he hoped the gathering was a "pivot point" to "not allow just the revivalists to get the microphone but the reformists."
Melvin Bledsoe, whose son converted to Islam and became a radical in Yemen, said that he believed lawmakers on the panel were driven by "political fear, perhaps not getting re-elected or something."
"This is real," he said. "If you don't ignore that we have a problem, then you're inviting the problem to come again."
The crowd seemed to gain energy -- 3 1/2 hours into the hearing -- when the subject turned to the legitimacy of groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Cravaack repeated allegations constant in the conservative blogosphere that the advocacy group is governed by terrorist organizations collaborating with outlawed groups like Hamas.
"Basically, you're dealing with a terrorist organization. They might be using you, sir, to implement their goals," Cravaack told Baca, who represents the largest sheriff's department in the country.
Baca, who has been outspoken in recent weeks about his strong collaboration with Muslim American organizations, triggered something like a group gasp when he said, "If the FBI has any charges against CAIR, let the FBI bring them. You have facts, and you have a crime. Deal with it. We don't play around with criminals in my world. If CAIR is a 'criminal organization,' prosecute them and bring them to trial."
CAIR was used as a lightning rod during the hearing, sort of a proxy for the often cited but unnamed "Muslim organizations" that King and several of his witnesses said were the problem and were encouraging innocent, patriotic Muslim Americans not to work with law enforcement.
Baca added that "you don't want to cause a conflict between me and the FBI. We work together better than perhaps this committee works together."
"That would be an understatement at this point," Cravaack replied, to laughter from the hearing room.
King chimed in a few moments later to note that he believed the committee usually worked well together.
More coverage from PostPolitics:
- Interactive: Highlights from the King hearing
- How should we talk about Islam in America?
- Fact Checker: King's misleading claim on radical imams
- Full coverage from the Post's On Faith
- The King hearings: The witness list
- King's past views on IRA draw ire
- King takes to CNN show to defend hearings
- Japanese Americans: Radical Islam hearings 'sinister'
- Cantor defends King hearings on radical Islam
- Crowds rally in NYC on the weekend before the King hearings
- White House praises Muslims ahead of hearings
Felicia Sonmez and Michelle Boorstein
| March 10, 2011; 1:00 PM ET
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