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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.

"From my perspective, there is an opportunity to be able to discuss in an open kind of way: Who is being radicalized? Why? What potential indicators are [there]? How can communities be better prepared to police themselves?" he said.

The witnesses

But the list of hearing witnesses makes it appear that a full answer to these questions is unlikely to come Thursday.

Two of those testifying have deeply personal stories about radicalization in America. One saw his son, a Muslim convert, arrested in a shooting that killed a U.S. soldier at a recruiting station in Arkansas. Another, a Somali American, saw a nephew turn radical: He joined Islamic militants in Somalia and was killed there.

Another witness will be Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim doctor from Arizona who has offered a critique of the Muslim community from within. Jasser has said Muslim Americans should alter what he calls a "culture of separatism" and a feeling of persecution.

King did not invite the leaders of any of the country's large Muslim organizations. And, despite his questions about Muslims' cooperation with investigators, he did not call anyone from law enforcement.

Democrats on the committee have called Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County. In the past, Baca has praised Muslim groups in his area for their help. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, also will testify.

In a sense, Muslim activists say, the day's most important witness might be King himself. His questions and his tone could become signposts for others about how Islam is viewed by those in power.

"The danger is, people who already have a negative view of Muslims or Islam will use this as a verification that they are correct in their views," said Robert Marro, who heads the government relations committee at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a Sterling mosque. "People think, 'If they're holding hearings, these people must be guilty. There must be fire if there is smoke.' "

Hedieh Mirahmadi, a Muslim activist who works to promote moderate Islam, said she also saw a chance for a useful dialogue that might reveal lessons for both Muslims and other Americans.

"If it's truly inquisitive, if it's a sincere desire to find out the information on what is going wrong in the community, to me that's not a problem," she said.

Staff writer Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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