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Interfaith Rally Protests Rep. King's Hearings On US Muslims

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A coalition of over 100 interfaith, nonprofit and governmental organizations rallied Sunday in Times Square against a planned congressional hearing on Muslims' role in homegrown terrorism.

Athem sung at rally
A young Muslim woman sings the National Anthem at the rally. (Photo/Sonia Rincon, 1010 WINS)

A few hundred people were on hand to hear from religious leaders of many faiths.  Those leaders denounced Long Island congressman and Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee  Peter King for taking what they said was the wrong approach.

The coalition said Thursday's hearing would send the wrong message to U.S. Muslims by "demonizing" them.  Some in the crowd carried signs reading "I am a Muslim" in support of those who felt unfairly singled out, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

King said affiliates of al-Qaida were radicalizing some American Muslims and that he plans to hold hearings on the threat they pose to the U.S.


WCBS 880's Peter Haskell hears from people at the rally

The Republican representative said "if there's nothing to hide," then Muslim Americans "should come forward to show what they're doing to combat terrorism."

"I cannot understand the alarm at all. I would think they'd be willing, they'd be anxious to come forward, to cooperate," King told 1010 WINS.

"The overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding Americans, but at this stage in our history there's an effort ... to radicalize elements within the Muslim community," he said in an separate interview broadcast Sunday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who was an initial key supporter of plans to develop a mosque near ground zero,  spoke at Sunday's rally.

Abdul Rauf said the hearings could serve a purpose if conducted properly.

"If the focus is on extremism only and off from wherever source it comes from, it'll be helpful.  If it's about branding a whole religion and its adherents as security threats, that is dangerous," he told reporters including 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon.


1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon hears from Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf

Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons also told the crowd that King's hearings were dangerous and divisive.

"I think the congressman is doing it because a lot of Americans are afraid.  Instead of dispelling that fear, he's promoting more fear," he said.

"I'm not going to back down to demonstrations or rallies or actors or rock stars or celebrities," King told CBS 2. "This is not not anti-Muslim this is anti-terrorist."

A smaller, yet vocal, counter-demonstration was also held Sunday.  Participants of that rally said they supported the congressman's hearings and held up signs to stop importing oil from Saudi Arabia and denounced Sharia law.

Counter-demonstration sign
A sign in support of the hearings is held up during a counter-demonstration. (Photo/Sonia Rincon, 1010 WINS)

"We have got to get politicians who are brave enough to stand up," said one man at the counter-protest.

King said he saw an international movement with elements in the United States of Muslims becoming more radical and identifying with terrorists.

A Minnesota Democrat, congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, said that while it was proper to investigate radicalization, he thought it was wrong to single out a religious minority.

The hearing was scheduled by King and is the first in a series of hearings on "radicalization" among U.S. Muslims.

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(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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