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Posted at 03:50 PM ET, 03/08/2011

Rep. Eric Cantor defends Rep. Peter King’s hearings on radical Islam

Updated: 4:25 p.m.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday backed House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King’s (R-N.Y.) planned hearing on Islamic radicalism, chiding the press for having “become sort of fascinated” with it.

“The purpose [of the hearing] is, if you ask Chairman King, to try and assess how we can better work with the Muslim community in America to stop the spread of radical Islam,” Cantor said at his weekly roundtable with reporters. “We have seen the Fort Hood incident that occurred; we have seen other evidence in America about the spread of radical Islam; if you look internationally, and certainly in the Middle East, I have said before in this room to you that our priority should be to stop the spread of radical Islam. That is in the security interests of the United States.”

King’s hearing, planned for Thursday morning, will examine “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.” The hearing has drawn fire from critics who charge that it scapegoats Muslim Americans and is a “public exercise in Islamophobia.” Proponents of the hearing say that it is appropriate for the Homeland Security Committee to investigate the roots of radicalization.

Six witnesses are slated to testify at the hearing, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, and relatives of young American Muslims who became violently radicalized.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released a statement Tuesday saying that he is “deeply concerned” about the hearing.

“I take the threat of terrorism very seriously, and no one is more committed to hunting down terrorists and bringing them to justice, wherever they live, than I am,” Reid said. “But I am deeply concerned about these hearings, which demonize law-abiding American Muslims who make important contributions to our society, as I would be about Congressional hearings to investigate Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith based solely on their religion.”

Reid urged that any conversation on domestic terrorism be “a collective one, not one that divides us based on religion.”

Cantor was peppered with questions about the hearing on Tuesday. Asked whether he had any doubts about King’s credibility, Cantor dismissed the question outright.

“I don’t think there’s any question about his credibility. ... We have got demonstrable occurrences in this country that show we’ve got a risk of the spread of radical Islam. That’s not within the security interests of the United States and its citizens; it’s something that we really want to work with folks to see if we can stop,” he said.

Asked about his expectations for the hearing and the controversy surrounding it, Cantor responded, “Really, it’s one hearing out of many that he’s having. I think you here in this room have sort of become fascinated with this hearing. And I would say to you it’s pretty obvious where some of the problems have been in terms of terrorist activity.”

Asked again to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the hearing, Cantor said that “people are free to react the way they want.”

“What I can tell you is I believe that we in this country are threatened by the spread of radical Islam, both abroad and at home,” he said.

By  |  03:50 PM ET, 03/08/2011

 
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