Amid heightened security, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) opened his controversial hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans Thursday by stating that the criticism he has received from special interest groups and the media "has ranged from disbelief to paroxysms of rage and hysteria."
"Let me make it clear today that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward," said King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "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."
King, who has been accused of McCarthyism over the hearings, went on to say that his effort is neither radical nor un-American. He called the inquiry "the logical response" to warnings from the Obama administration, citing Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough's comments that "al Qaeda and its adherents have increasingly turned to another troubling tactic: attempting to recruit and radicalize people to terrorism here in the United States...This threat is real, and it is serious."
King also noted comments by Attorney General Eric Holder that the radicalization of young Americans keeps him awake at night, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's testimony that the threat level is the highest it's been since September 11, 2001 because of domestic radicalization.
He then responded to critics who say the hearings should have a wider focus than just Muslims.
"This Committee cannot live in denial which is what some would have us do when they suggest that this hearing dilute its focus by investigating threats unrelated to al Qaeda," he said. "The Department of Homeland Security and this committee were formed in response to the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11. There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation."
King said that he believes "the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country" - but added that "there are realities we cannot ignore."
"For instance a Pew Poll said that 15 percent of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings," he said. "This is the segment of the community al Qaeda is attempting to recruit." He called for moderate leadership from the Muslim community and said Muslim Americans should reject The Committee on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) and similar groups that King says do not deserve to be treated as legitimate groups.
King listed Americans who had been recruited by al Qaeda, including New York City Subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, Times Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad, Fort Hood Terrorist U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan and Colleen LaRose, aka "Jihad Jane."
"As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we cannot allow the memories of that tragic day to fade away," he said. "...Today, we must be fully aware that homegrown radicalization is part of al Qaeda's strategy to continue attacking the United States."
King's hearings have been greeted with outrage in the Muslim community; in his testimony, Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress,.
Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the committee, was also critical, stating, "I cannot help but wonder how propaganda about this hearing's focus on the American Muslim Community will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers."
Witnesses who plan to testify at the hearing include family members of young men who became radicalized, who plan to tell the committee that the young men were brainwashed by Muslim extremists.
In an interview with CBS News earlier this week, King said he wouldn't change how he's handled the hearings.
"No when I see people who are attacking me I'm gratified ... to me it's a badge of honor to be attacked by the likes of these people," he told CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.
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