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American Muslim groups react to views presented in controversial hearing

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, is holding controversial hearings that he says will assess the threat of terrorism among American Muslims.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 12:10 AM

Standing before a throng of cameras after his high-profile hearing on Muslim radicalization, Rep. Peter T, King (R-N.Y.) once again attacked major Muslim American organizations and their leaders, whom King described as soft on extremism.

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Asked to identify better leaders, the Long Island Republican pointed to the wavy-haired man beside him, Arizona physician Zuhdi Jasser. Jasser, the head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, had just been his star witness atThursday's hearing.

"To me, a group like Dr. Jasser's would be ideal," King said, calling the forum "the most compatible" with American values.

It was a remarkable moment in the spotlight for an organization that until a few years ago had an annual budget of less than $20,000 and a few volunteers.

If King's hearing was about anything, it was about trying to empower a different group of Muslim leaders, people King and other conservatives view as more patriotic, more cooperative and more focused on rooting out terrorists, rather than on Islamophobia.

The difference can be summed up by contrasting part of the mission statement of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - an advocacy group King and other GOP lawmakers bashed repeatedly Thursday - and that of a coalition of groups of which Jasser's is a part.

CAIR says it seeks to "monitor local, national and international media in part, to challenge negative stereotypes, but also to applaud and encourage positive representations of Islam and Muslims." The mission statement of the American Islamic Leadership Coalition is to "come together to defend the U.S. Constitution" and to "protect American security."

The clash involving some of the larger and better-known Muslim American organizations and Jasser's rapidly developing coalition is complicated - and heated. It includes differences in tone, ways of viewing religion in public life, and foreign policy.

The hearing "wasn't about a desire to empower anyone; it was about a desire to shoot the messenger" of criticism, said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

Jasser, 43, who said he has received letters in recent days calling him an "Uncle Tom," and like-minded groups have said the best-known Muslim organizations have made an industry out of the falsehood that Muslims are victims in the West.

He is quick to raise his voice when speaking of large organizations such as CAIR, which has a $3 million annual budget, and the Islamic Society of North America, which says 30,000 members and non-members participated in its programs last year.

To Jasser, the people running those groups are "Islamists" for not focusing more on the anti-Democratic aspects of Islamic scripture. He also believes leaders should more unequivocally condemn groups such as the militant Palestinian organization Hamas.

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