Muslims watch warily as House holds hearing

March 10, 2011

They were moved when the first Muslim elected to Congress shed tears
discussing a Muslim who died trying to save others on 9/11. They were
irked by accusations from House members and annoyed when fellow Muslims
maligned their faith.

At times they constituted an Amen corner. At other moments, they jeered and glared at the images beamed live from Capitol Hill.

But
for the most part, the dozen Muslims gathered in Sterling, Virginia, on
March 10 at the home of a local grassroots activist sat silently as
they watched the House Homeland Secur­ity Committee's hearing on "the
extent of radicalization in the American Mus­lim Community."

The
hearings, spearheaded by chairman Peter King (R., N.Y.), drew loud
protests from many U.S. Muslims before they even started. Too many
politicians are blaming too many Muslims for the heinous actions of a
few, they said.

In Boston, Aatif Harden went to watch at New
England's largest mosque, a facility that opened in 2009 after years of
resistance from locals. Harden, active in the Muslim Ameri­can Society,
had anticipated that at least a few friends would join him at the
mosque. But they were too busy with work or school, he said, to spend
time watching Washington.

Malik Khan, president of the Islamic
Center of Boston in Wayland, Mass­achusetts, was among those who skipped
the viewing party. "Some­times I think the hell with it," he said. "We
do so many good things, and people still just want to demonize us."

So
Harden watched the hearings alone. He didn't say much, until Rep. Frank
Wolf (R.,Va.) accused the Coun­cil on American-Islamic Relations of
terrorist sympathies. "All of this stuff is old," he said. "What's an
unindicted co-conspirator anyway? What the hell is that?"

The
feeling was much the same back in Virginia, where 28-year-old Salah
Ayoubi called similar charges from King "ridiculous." Saba Baig, a
34-year-old homeschooling mother, called CAIR, a Muslim civil rights
group with chapters across the country, "our biggest voice."

The
gathering was hosted by attorney Hassan Ahmad and his wife, Rabiah
Ahmad, an organizer with the grassroots Muslim group My Faith My Voice.
One of their guests was Ayah Ibrahim, a 26-year-old graduate student in
political science at George Mason University. Ibrahim wished Muslim
leaders had been invited to testify at the hearing.

"They need to bring in Islamic scholars," Ibrahim said, "someone who actually knows what they're talking about."

When
King cut off a request for more opening statements from committee
Democrats, Ayoubi criticized the congressman. "He doesn't want more of
that good stuff to be said," Ayoubi said.

Ayoubi's father, Mazen
Ayoubi, 57, was particularly frustrated with witness Zuhdi Jasser of the
American Islamic Forum for Democracy, who he said dwelled on the few
radicals and ignored the many law-abiding Muslims. Ayoubi's seven
children, for example, include doctors, lawyers and engineers. "It's
only [Jasser] who thinks that there's a problem," he said.

Hassan
Ahmad accused Jasser of malign­ing the faith as much as any terrorist.
"That's what he's doing, he's hijacking our religion and he's making a
statement on our behalf," said Ahmad.

Up in Boston, Harden also
had choice words for Jasser. "In the African American community, we have
a term, Uncle Tom. They're so full of self-loathing and self-hatred,"
Harden said. "I'm not saying he's that, but he's right on the edge of
it."

Harden is part of a group of Muslims who meet monthly with
the FBI, and when Jasser said Muslims don't cooperate with law
enforcement, Harden snapped at the screen. "I work with the FBI every
month," he said. "For him to say Muslims aren't working with the police
is a lie, it's an insult."

In both Boston and Virginia, viewers
seemed particularly troubled by perceptions that the hearings tarred all
Muslims as guilty by association.

"Don't make the whole Muslim
community responsible for the acts of a few idiots," Harden said.
"Suppose we did that with the African-American community, or the Italian
community? Suppose we had hearings about the Italian community being
responsible for the mafia?"

When the hearings wrapped up in early
afternoon, Harden still thought they were a bad idea. But he was
heartened by support from some members of the panel, including Los
Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca, who has hired Muslim deputies and built
bridges to the local Muslim community.

Given what he had feared or what could have happened, Harden said it could have been worse.  —RNS