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Rep. Peter King's Muslim hearing: Plenty of drama, less substance

Keith Ellison (D - Minn.) is the first Muslim-American elected to Congress and one of two Muslim-Americans currently serving. Toward the end of his testimony, Ellison grows visibly emotional when he describes the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old Muslim-American paramedic and police cadet from New York City.

"The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans," King said. "But there are realities we cannot ignore."

Seven witnesses

Even so, the hearing raised more questions than it answered. The seven witnesses included no leaders of large Muslim groups and no national law enforcement officials.

Instead, the committee heard narrow but powerful stories, like that of Melvin Bledsoe.

Bledsoe, with thick-rimmed glasses and a Memphis drawl, described his son Carlos as staffers put photos of him on a stand. One showed a sweetly smiling young boy in a red basketball uniform. Another showed a young man in a tuxedo. Then Bledsoe described his son's conversion to radical Islam in college: He took down a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He released a dog into the woods, he said, because Islam regards the animals as unclean.

There were no pictures from this phase of his son's life, when he took the name Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. Bledsoe's son eventually traveled to Yemen and then returned to the United States and allegedly opened fire on a military recruiting station in Arkansas. A soldier died in the attack.

Radical extremism "is a big elephant in the room, " Bledsoe said. "Our society continues not to see it."

Bihi then told the story of his nephew and of Bihi's difficulties getting mosque leaders to help track him down. During questions from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Bihi said he had been told that going to the authorities would mean winding up in prison at Guantanamo Bay, or worse.

"If you do that, you're going to be responsible for the eradication of all mosques and Islamic society in North America," Bihi said he was told.

"Would you call that intimidation?" Lungren responded.

"Intimidation in its purest form," Bihi said.

Potential turning point

Beforehand, the hearing had been seen as a potential turning point in the political conversation about Islam. What signals would King and other send about the way Americans should talk about the religion and its American adherents?

The answer was a muddle. King and others heaped praise on Muslims as a whole, saying that the vast majority are patriotic and law-abiding.

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