In an appearance on CNN's State of the Union" Sunday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended his plan to hold hearings on radical Islam next week. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a practicing Muslim who plans to testify at the hearings, also joined King.
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said he agreed with holding the hearings, but that the scope was too narrow. "It's absolutely the right thing to do for the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to investigate radicalization. But to say we're going to investigate a -- a religious minority, and a particular one, I think is the wrong course of action to take," he said.
King defended against the charge, saying that other, smaller groups did not pose as grave a threat. "Eric Holder is not saying he's staying awake at night because of what's coming from anti-abortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from Neo-Nazis. It's the radicalization right now in the Muslim community," King said.
Asked why he would participate in the hearings Ellison said, "I believe in engaging the process. I think you've got to be involved in the conversation; you've got to offer an alternative view. And I do plan on saying that I challenge the basic premise of the hearings -- that I do agree that we should deal with radicalization and violent radicalization, but that singling out one community is the wrong thing to do."
"We're talking about a radicalization in this country which is linked to an overseas enemy. This is al Qaeda -- internationally is attempting to recruit within the United States," King said, when asked why he was not holding hearings on the Tucson shootings in January, which left his colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) with a bullet wound to the head. "It's an international movement with elements here in the United States, and to me, that's a real distinction," he said.
"I am starting off with a number of hypotheses and theses that I believe in," King said. Asked what he hoped to learn from the hearings and why they were not to be seen as the government going after Muslims in the United States, King answered, "Let people watch the hearing and decide then."
"We need to be careful about how we use the instrumentality of the government in investigative hearings," Ellison said. "I think that it does make sense to talk with people in the Muslim community about how we can meet the challenge of public security."
Asked if the Muslim community had been helpful in countering radicalized Muslims, Ellison was firm: "The stats say 'yes.'" He went on to say the Muslim community should not be frightened, but empowered. But King's outlook was not as positive, "I'm aware of a number of cases in New York where the community has not been cooperative," King said, adding that law enforcement did not always "get the level of cooperation that they need."
On the subject of the budget and proposed cuts to Homeland Security put forth by his own party, King was openly critical. "Let me shock Keith by saying that I think that a number of the cuts Republicans have made in the continuing resolution are wrong. " King said, referring specifically to cuts to transit and port security.