The San Francisco Chronicle
By Joe Garofoli
Alauddin El-Bakri worries about a new round of backlash and mistrust toward members of his Saratoga mosque because of a congressional hearing being held today on what a Republican congressman is calling the radicalization of Islam in the United States.
Once again, El-Bakri said, American Muslims are being linked to terrorism.
The title of the hearing, "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response," has earned Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., comparisons to 1950s Communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy for the way he is broadly targeting people for their alleged links to un-American activity.
Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, compared the hearings to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II simply because of their ancestry.
While King said Wednesday that the "overwhelming number" of U.S. Muslims are upstanding citizens, he added that "there are people within the community who are not cooperating" with law enforcement to curb terrorism.
Critics of the House Homeland Security Committee hearing say the widely publicized session will further marginalize the 2.6 million U.S. Muslims, even those in more liberal regions such as the Bay Area, which is home to an estimated 250,000 Muslims and four dozen mosques - and isn't immune to controversy.
Last week, a 20-year-old Arab American from San Jose sued the FBI for secretly attaching a tracking device to his car and threatening him with federal charges when he refused to return it. Yasir Afifi says he is not politically active and has no connections to terrorist groups.
"This is part of a systematic effort to make Muslims look like they don't belong here. That they're un-American," said El-Bakri, imam at the 150-family West Valley Muslim Association. "When you see your Congress - the supposed wise men of government - saying this, it makes it more acceptable to discriminate against Muslims."
El-Bakri recently asked 100 Muslim Boy Scouts camping in Yosemite how many had been called a terrorist, even in jest. Eighty hands went up, he said. Many said the harassment regularly stressed them out. Twenty said they have trouble sleeping at night.
"These kids are 12 years old," El-Bakri said.
Today's hearing, he said, could alienate a generation of U.S.-born Muslims, whose population is expected to double by 2030, according to the Pew Research Center.
No basis in fact
King has often said that 80 percent of U.S. mosques are led by "extremist" imams. Although that statistic is often repeated in conservative circles, the statement is not corroborated by data. It is taken from a statement made by U.S. cleric Muhammad Hisham Kabbani at a 1999 State Department forum on "Islamic extremism" and its threat to U.S. security.
Contrary to King's assertion, Muslim Americans have provided "the largest single source of initial information" in terrorism cases involving other U.S. Muslims, said David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina.
Tips provided by U.S. Muslims led to arrests in nearly one-third of the 161 cases where Muslim Americans have committed or been accused of committing terrorist acts since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a February study by the Triangle Center.
Supported by such studies, critics dismiss King's hearings as little more than a rallying call to the conservative base as the 2012 presidential race begins to take shape.
Expanding the frenzy
Hatem Bazian, director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at UC Berkeley, said the hearing in Washington taps into the anti-Muslim sentiment whipped up last year over plans to build a community center and mosque two blocks from New York City's ground zero and the constant - and disproved - accusations that President Obama is Muslim.
Bazian studied 50 House and Senate races last year and found that campaign ads and statements included more anti-Muslim rhetoric in districts where fewer Muslims lived. Those efforts marginalize Muslims from the political discussion, he said.
Bazian worries that today's hearing will take that dynamic to a national stage. "Just like in McCarthy's time," he said, "the mere mention of an individual's name will make them politically untenable to much of mainstream America."
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, a member of King's Homeland Security committee, said, "It's more destructive than a political grandstand for purposes of a 2012 election.
"It fuels the feelings of hatred toward Americans by identifying specific groups instead of individuals. Did we go after whites after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma federal building?"
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