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Rep. Peter King's Muslim hearings: A key moment in an angry conversation

Protesters in New York rally ahead of congressional hearings to be led by Republican Rep. Peter King on "Islamic radicalization" in the United States.

But now King has opened the door for less-restrained commentary with his own comments about American Muslims and their mosques. There are "too many mosques in the country," he has said, and he has alleged that nearly all of them are run by radical extremists.

On Tuesday, King told Fox News that he "will not back down whatsoever" in the face of criticism that he is demonizing American Muslims.

"The threat analysis is that the danger comes from this small segment within the Muslim American community," King said. "And, unfortunately, not enough leaders in the Muslim community are willing to face up to that."

A string of incidents

Across the country, the discussion about Muslims and terrorism has grown harsher over the past 18 months. The sharp turn began in November 2009 with the apprehension of an Army psychiatrist who is Muslim after a shooting rampage that claimed 13 lives at Fort Hood, Tex. Then a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, Faisal Shahzad, was convicted of an attempted car bombing in May in Times Square. Both said they were driven by their concept of Islam.

A Congressional Research Service report says there were 22 arrests of violent jihad suspects from May 2009 to November 2010, compared with 21 in the previous seven years. Another report, from a University of North Carolina professor, used different methodology to identify 120 cases that involved a threat from a Muslim American since Sept. 11, 2001. In 48 of them, he found, the initial tip came from another member of the Muslim community.

In the summer, a proposal for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero stirred bitter opposition. The pastor of a tiny church in Florida garnered international attention when he threatened to burn a pile of Korans on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Oklahoma changed its constitution to "protect" it from sharia, although that change has been challenged in court.

This month, hundreds of protesters gathered outside a fundraiser for an Islamic group in Yorba Linda, Calif., to complain about two speakers at the event. Both men, protesters said, were sympathetic to radical causes in the past.

Afterward, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a video clip that showed protesters shouting "USA! USA!" as women in head scarves walked by. In another, a man yelled, "Muhammad was a pervert!"

Now, at this tense moment, comes King's hearing, which House Republican leaders support. It has also been hailed by an increasingly vocal cadre of conservatives.

Lieberman, in a telephone interview this week, said the questions King is raising about cooperation with law enforcement "are important ones, and real ones."

Frank J. Cilluffo, head of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and a former special assistant to Bush, said the hearings are worthwhile.

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