Rep. Peter King, the head of House Homeland Security Committee, begins a series of hearings Thursday on Islamic radicalism in the American Muslim community. King says the hearings are a matter of national security and is not deterred by critics who say the hearings amount to a witch hunt, unfairly singling out Muslims as potential extremists, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports.
King is a Republican from Long Island who lost dozens of constituents on 9/11. But even the name of the hearing he's holding has critics fuming - "radicalization in the American Muslim community."
"If you want to talk about terrorism or extremism it should be about everyone," said Valley Stream, N.Y. resident Saad Sheik.
King contends that radical American Muslims are to blame for most of the terrorist attempts and attacks in this country since 9/11 and that the Muslim community hasn't done enough to prevent radicalization from taking hold.
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"Al Qaeda is attempting to radicalize the Muslim-American community," King told CBS' "The Early Show" Wednesday. "I have said over and over again, 99 percent -- more than that maybe - of Muslims in this country are outstanding Americans, but their community is being targeted. That's why the investigation is there."
King rejected a Duke University and University of North Carolina study showing that, since 9/11, the Muslim community has thwarted nearly 50 of 120 known terror plots, saying that it left out financing cases, ignored the concealment of terrorism by Muslim leaders, and unfairly gave credit to a Muslim taxi driver for alerting police to the bomb threat in Times Square, New York.
He also brushed aside criticism for his well-documented role as an ardent U.S. support of the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s, showcased again in the New York Times Wednesday. The IRA was a terrorist group that used bombs and snipers to achieve political goals, although it tried to limit civilian casualties. King called the Times story "a last-minute attempt to take a shot at me."
"I was absolutely essential in bringing about that peace process. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are alive today in Northern Ireland because of my efforts," King said, adding "I would be happy to discuss and debate this issue at any time."
The congressman, who once asserted that 80 percent of all American mosques were radicalized, did not invite any law enforcement officers or experts to testify, prompting a critical letter from a group of 50 liberal organizations calling it a "political show-trial."
King says there's more to learn from the family members of two radicalized Muslims, who will share their stories Thursday.
Appearing alongside King on "The Early Show," Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said that the hearing would showcase King's views but not actual expert testimony.
"If you take a hearing like this, and use a congressional investigative hearing to investigate a community with the allegation -- before we've even had any testimony -- the allegation that there's no cooperation, I think what you're doing is you're setting the tone of blame and collective guilt," Ellison said, "and you're thwarting the very things you say you want to achieve, which is greater public safety.
Ellison noted that only one law enforcement official was called to testify. (The official, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, was invited by the Homeland Security Committee's top Democrat.)
"In terms of expert opinions, this hearing is sorely lacking," Ellison said.
"Unfortunately Representative King has a history of anti-Muslim rhetoric," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He has a past history of promoting anti-Muslim sentiment and that doesn't lend itself to objective hearings on the subject."
But King has backers, too, like retired New York firefighter Tim Brown.
"Congressman King is taking action on this," he said. "For people to call him islamaphobe or bigot is ridiculous."