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Reps. McCaul & Ellison Discuss House Hearing on Islamic Radicals in U.S.

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PBS NewsHour

JIM LEHRER:  And to a U.S. House hearing that's sparked a national debate. 
 
            Margaret Warner has our story.

 MARGARET WARNER:  The line outside the Homeland Security Committee room stretched down the halls, a sign of the intense interest today's hearing generated from the moment it was announced. 
 
            REP. PETER KING (R-NY), Homeland Security Committee Chairman:  The Committee on Homeland Security...
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Right at the start, committee Chairman New York Republican Peter King rejected criticism of the focus on one religious group. 
 
            REP. PETER KING:  Let me make it clear today that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward -- and they will.  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. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  King pointed to a spate of homegrown terror cases in recent years in which American Muslims have been accused: last year's attempted bombing in Times Square; the failed plot to attack the New York City subway system in 2009; and the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings that killed 13. 
 
            Indeed, this past weekend, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough echoed what others in the administration have said, that al-Qaida is actively trying to recruit U.S. citizens. 
 
            DENIS MCDONOUGH, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser:  They make videos, create Internet forums, even publish online magazines, all for the express purpose of trying to convince Muslim-Americans to reject their country and attack fellow Americans. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  But appearing as a witness, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, himself a Muslim, objected to the premise of the hearing, saying it was tarring Muslims with a broad brush.
 
            He told of a man who rushed into the Twin Towers on 9/11 to save others, but was, for a time, a suspect himself. 
 
            REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), Minnesota:  Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans.  His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, agreed, but said the Muslim community needs to acknowledge there's a significant problem with radicalization. 
 
            ZUHDI JASSER, American Islamic Forum For Democracy:  You know, listen, I'm Muslim and I realize that it's my problem, and I need to fix it.  And that's what I'm trying to do. 
 
            So we can close our eyes and pretend it doesn't exist.  We can call everybody a bigot or Islamophobic to even talk about it.  But you're not going to solve the problem, and the problem is increasing exponentially. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  The main panel also included two fathers whose sons were recruited by radical groups.  Melvin Bledsoe's son Carlos has been charged with killing an Army private outside an Arkansas recruiting station.  He warned, other Muslim-American young people are at risk. 
 
            MELVIN BLEDSOE, Father of Carlos Bledsoe:  This is a big elephant in the room.  Our society continues not to see it.  This wrong called political correctness, you can even call it political fear, fear of stepping on special minority population toe, even as a segment of that population wants to stamp out America and everything we stand for. 
 
            I must say that we -- I must say that we are losing American babies.  Our children are in danger. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Still, much of the members' comments focused not on what turns young people into radicals, but on whether even holding such a hearing was appropriate. 
 
            REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), Texas:  But, you see, it already has been tainted, this hearing.  There are no loud signs of reasoning that are coming through this hearing.  The reason is because it has already been classified as an effort to demonize and to castigate a whole broad base of human beings. 
 
            I cannot stand for that. 
 
            REP. PAUL BROUN (R), Georgia:  The focus of this hearing today is not the Islamic religion.  It's Islamicists.  It's the radical jihadists.  It's the radicalization of our youth, as Mr. Bledsoe and Mr. Bihi have talked about. 
 
            And I think it's absolutely critical that we as a nation focus upon doing exactly what I was taught in the United States Marine Corps, to know your enemy. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  For his part, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca told the committee that, from what he sees, Muslim-Americans are concerned and willing to cooperate with law enforcement. 
 
            LEROY BACA, Los Angeles County Sheriff:  The truth is that Muslims are just as independent, just as feisty, just as concerned about safety.  They certainly don't want their homes or their mosques blown up.  And thereby, as individuals, they have been doing things with local law enforcement without the cover, so to speak, of an organization. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  The hearing adjourned after four hours, but Chairman King has said he plans to hold additional sessions in the future. 
 
            For two different perspectives from congressmen involved in today's hearing, we're joined now by Republican Michael McCaul of Texas -- he's a member of the Homeland Security Committee -- and Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress.  He served as a witness today, as we just saw. 
 
            Welcome to you both. 
 
            Congressman Ellison, even before this hearing began, you branded the whole premise of it as McCarthyistic.  After taking part today, is that what it felt like to you? 
 
            REP. KEITH ELLISON:  Well, I would still challenge the basic premise of the hearing. 
 
            I think that when you look at a serious, societally-wide program like violent extremism, but then to associate it with only one religious community or one racial group or one ethnicity, I think that that is the very heart of scapegoating.
 
            And I think that we -- our history with scapegoating has never been good.  Japanese internment comes to mind.  But I do think there is a way, or could have been a way to have a hearing like this that could have been effective.
 
            And that would start with having a lot of witnesses who had real law enforcement experience, who offered some understanding from a scientific standpoint on something we could build policy on. 
 
            I want to say that the individuals who testified at the hearing, except for Sheriff Baca, are people who I do sympathize with.  And I think that it's important for us to acknowledge their pain and what they went through.
 
            But we need information that we can build policy around.  And heartfelt anecdotes, unfortunately, though interesting and important, simply are not what we need to build policy.  After all, we're Congress.  We make the laws.  And we should have some good, solid law enforcement expertise in order to achieve this task. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Congressman McCaul, how did it feel -- feel to you?  Did you learn anything from today's hearing about the extent or causes of radicalization among young Muslims? 
 
            REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), Texas:  I did. 
 
            I think, first of all, this is an important dialogue, I think, for the nation to have.  As Mr. Bledsoe said, whose son was radicalized, it is the pink elephant in the room.  And I think we should be talking about it. 
           
            I was -- and let me say, also, that the committee is not targeting the Muslim community.  And I respect Congressman Ellison a great deal.  It's al-Qaida that is targeting our Muslim youth in this country and attempting to radicalize them.  And I think that's what we were trying to point out, were the 27 terror plots over the last two years involving radical extremism that we need to be paying close attention to as the next generation of terrorists. 
 
            And so I thought that the father and the uncle's testimony was very emotional and very persuasive in terms of these two mosques that, unfortunately, perverted the Muslim faith, took them in the wrong direction, essentially held them hostage.  And -- and they ended up in Somalia and Yemen. 
 
            One was shot in the head in Somalia, and the other one returned from Yemen to kill two U.S. soldiers.  And the father and uncle were very passionate about the fact that their children changed, and they couldn't do anything about it.  And I think that's the important point here. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Congressman Ellison, do you agree that there -- do you see it as a significant problem in the Muslim-American community that needs to be addressed? 
 
            REP. KEITH ELLISON:  Well, one of the points I made in my own testimony is that I voted in favor of Jane Harman's bill to study violent extremism.  The Harman bill didn't single out one religion.
 
            But -- so, of course, I see it as a very serious problem.  Look, Faisal Shahzad did try to blow up fellow Americans in Times Square.  So did Najibullah Zazi try to harm Americans, as well as Nidal Hasan did kill members of our society. 
 
            So, look, obviously it's a serious problem.  But so is Jared Loughner a problem.  So is Timothy McVeigh a problem.  So are the people who killed citizens at Virginia Tech and Columbine and so many other places a problem. 
 
            When a citizen goes from being law-abiding to being willing to kill for ideology or religion or some set of ideas, this is something we must pay close attention to.  And, in my opinion, we don't know nearly enough about it.  So, in my opinion, obviously, this is a very important topic.  I'm focused on it.  I have spoken on it.  I have written on it.  And I continue -- and I will continue to be engaged. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  So, what did you both hear -- and I will begin with you, Congressman McCaul -- about why it is occurring in this community and what more could be done that would be more effective in countering it? 
 
            REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL:  Well, in a lot of these cases, whether it's Major Hasan, as Congressman Ellison mentioned, a lot of the common threads here are the cleric in Yemen Awlaki.  He has had a lot of communications.
 
            He had it with Hasan before he killed the 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, north of my district, and many others.  And then there is a radicalization taking place, whether it's through e-mails or over the Internet with these jihadist Web sites, which the attorney general and Secretary Napolitano have agreed is an imminent danger to the United States. 
 
            And, so, I think what we need to do is to get a better grasp on who are the bad apples in our society that we can focus on.  I think where the congressman and I would agree is, that's going to come through not ostracizing the Muslim community, but rather bringing them in. 
 
            I worked in the Justice Department, and the outreach here is critically important, that we work with the Muslim community as a partner, not in opposition to them, to work together to identify the problem areas. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Congressman Ellison? 
 
            REP. KEITH ELLISON:  Yes, I do agree.  I think that Mike is right about that. 
 
            In my own city of Minneapolis, we have seen law enforcement officials reaching out to the Muslim community, particularly the Somali community, and we have seen people try to build trust, so that folks will come forward and they will talk about what needs to be talked about to protect our community. 
 
            Here's the reality.  We need to establish a level of trust, so that the community feels that the criminals are the target, not the community.  That was one of the unfortunate aspects of the way this hearing was framed.
 
            But I tell you this.  I do think that building trust is critically important.  Being on the Web sites, making sure we know what the Internet traffic is, is important.  And I also think it's critically important to really, in the Muslim context, to attack the ideology that people like Anwar al-Awlaki use.
 
            And I think that the Muslim community can be very helpful in refuting what they claim the Koran and Islamic doctrine say about these issues. 
 
            (CROSSTALK)
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  All right, and that takes us right to the last -- to my last question -- we don't have a lot of time -- but that Congressman King had raised, and he said again yesterday, that, from law enforcement people he talks to, there isn't enough cooperation from the Muslim-American community. 
 
            The sheriff today seemed to suggest otherwise.  Where did today's hearing leave that question in your mind, fairly briefly, if you can? 
 
            REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL:  I think the answer is, we have a lot of work to do.  There are some groups that we pointed out today who tell the Muslim community, you know, lock your doors, don't talk to the FBI.  And I think that's the wrong approach. 
 
            This should be a mutual partnership.  I have always said -- and we were -- I have always said the moderate Muslim is the most effective weapon against the radical extremists.  And I think we need to partner with the moderate Muslim, whether it be in this country or overseas in our efforts as well to defeat the terrorists. 
 
            And so -- and I think Pete King talked a little bit about political correctness.  And I think, as Mr. Bledsoe mentioned, the pink elephant in the room, I think we have to look at this in a colorblind way, that there is a problem here and an issue we have got to deal with. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  Let me get -- and, Congressman Ellison, briefly on that point, law enforcement. 
 
            REP. KEITH ELLISON:  Well, let me just say that -- let me just say this.
 
            The whole point about the political correctness, I don't feel is a valid point.  I often fear that people throw political correctness out because they want to stereotype, but they don't want to be accused of stereotyping.  I don't think there's any danger of political correctness here. 
 
            But what I also want to say, though, is, when it comes to the issue of law enforcement, at the end of the day, the Muslim community has been amazingly engaged and helpful.  A number of the studies that came out show that upwards of 40 percent of the reported tips come from the Muslim community. 
 
            The Muslim community has been instrumental in thwarting efforts committing terrorist acts.  I don't think we should confuse cooperation with law enforcement and abdication of people's, Americans' basic civil rights.  That include people's right to seek counsel if they're going to be talked to directly and they're the target of an investigation. 
 
            That's something I don't think we should ask any American to give up, but, absolutely, cooperation is essential. 
 
            MARGARET WARNER:  All right, Congressman Ellison, Congressman McCaul, thank you both. 
 
            REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL:  Thank you.

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