WASHINGTON // Al Qa'eda is targeting Muslim Americans for recruits to terrorism and the community must do more to combat Islamic radicalisation, a US politician said yesterday as he opened hearings that have been criticised as a witch hunt.
Peter King, the chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, who called the hearings, has accused the Muslim community of refusing to cooperate with law enforcement and charged that preaching in some US mosques was leading to radicalisation.
"To combat this threat, moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim community," Mr King said. "Today, we must be fully aware that homegrown radicalisation is part of al Qa'eda's strategy to continue attacking the United States."
Alluding to the criticism of the hearings, Mr King reinforced his commitment to them: "Let me make it clear today 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 terrorist attack."
Keith Ellison, America's first Muslim congressman, warned of the potential pitfalls of the hearings.
"This committee's approach to this particular subject is contrary to the best of American values, and threatens our security, or could potentially," he said.
"As leaders, we need to be rigorous about our analysis of violent extremism. Our responsibility includes doing no harm. I am concerned that the focus of today's hearing may increase suspicion of the Muslim-American community, ultimately making us all a little less safe. "
Echoing Mr Ellison's concerns, Lee Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff, emphasised the dangers of singling out America's Muslim community. Mr Baca said Muslims are integral to the LAPD's law enforcement efforts.
"I would caution that to comment only on the extent of radicalisation in the Muslim-American community may be viewed as singling out a particular section of our nation. This makes a false assumption that any particular religion or group is more prone to radicalisation then others."
However, others defended the hearings. Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, insisted that the hearings posed a much-needed challenge to a central cause of radicalisation within the Muslim community: a lack of assimilation.
"Multiculturalism - political correctness - has prevented true ideological assimilation," he said.
On Wednesday more than 50 Democrats sent a letter to Mr King urging him not to conduct the hearings, arguing that they may very well "jeopardise the trust between [American] Muslims and law enforcement."
Corey Saylor, director of government affairs at the Council for American Islamic Relations, speaking before the hearings, warned that Mr King has wrongfully accused the American Muslim community of not fully cooperating with law enforcement.
Mr Saylor said leading law enforcement officials, including Robert Mueller, the FBI director, have directly rebutted this claim. Mr Saylor said that a recent report by Duke University showed that "in about half of the cases involving American Muslims, it was somebody from the [Muslim] community that turned them in."
Critics have questioned the propriety of Mr King, a well-known supporter of the Provisional IRAy, heading hearings that seek to address radicalisation.
Mr King insists that no conflict exists because "the IRA never attacked the United States."
* With additional reporting by Reuters News Service