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A Report from the Hill: Inside the House Homeland Security Committee Hearing on the Radicalization of Muslims

by Lisa Piraneo, Director of Government Relations

I arrive at the Cannon House Office Building at 7:30 a.m.—two hours before the scheduled start of Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) much-publicized hearing on Muslim Radicalization in our country. For the past few months Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Hamas front group CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) have been whipping the Muslim community and the media into a frenzy about this hearing. There have been rallies in New York City and front page articles in the so-called “establishment media” about how “unfair” and even “dangerous” holding this hearing will be.

So I expect there will be a large crowd waiting to get into the Committee room and I am right. There is a line from its entrance all the way down the hall, wrapped around the corner, and half way down the next hall. I park myself in line and wait.

More people arrive. More press arrive. More police arrive. There have been threats against Chairman King leading up to the hearing and it is clear they are being taken seriously. A police officer confronts several bowtie-wearing gentlemen in front of me for cutting into line. They see the length of the line and realize that the odds of them getting into the hearing if they go to the end are slim to none. “You need to get to the end of the line, sir.” He says. “See all of these people behind you? They are waiting too.” There is some tense back and forth and finally they acquiesce.

The waiting crowd is clearly majority Muslim or Muslim-American. I hear multiple discussions about how unfair Representative King is—and lots of strategy about what to do once the hearing is over. Some waiting in line have signs with them. One reads “Stop Demonizing Muslims.” Standing directly behind me is Alejandro Beutel, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He gives multiple interviews to press while waiting in line, telling them that the organization is taking a “wait and see” approach.

At 9:15 a.m.—an hour and 45 minutes after I arrived and 15 minutes prior to the hearing’s commencement—an announcement is made that the Committee room will soon open. Warnings are given from both the Capitol Police as well as Committee staff that outbursts and signs in the hearing room are against House rules and will not be tolerated. The line starts to move, slowly. They are letting people in the room a little at a time. I learn that a large section of the small hearing room is already taken up by press. Not a good sign for me.

I am 10 people away from the doors to the hearing room when an announcement is made that the Committee room is now full. The choice to the hundreds still in line: stay there and take the chance that others will leave the hearing, opening up additional space; move to a small “overflow room” right next to the Committee room; or go home. I opt for the overflow room, as I don’t want to miss one second of the hearing. In a matter of seconds, the overflow room is filled to capacity as well, as it is already half full with press when I arrive. I grab one of the few remaining seats and get ready to Tweet.

Representative King, as the Committee Chair, speaks first, offering his Opening Remarks. He states that today’s hearing will be the first of a series dealing with the “critical issue” of the radicalization of Muslim-Americans. He states “Let me make it clear today I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward. And they will. To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee—to protect America from a terrorist attack.”

The hearing is divided into two panels: The first panel consists of two sitting Members of Congress: Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA). During Representative Ellison’s remarks, he breaks down and openly weeps when talking about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an American Muslim firefighter who died on 9/11 and notes how his name was smeared. Congressional drama. I’ve seen it often and it can distract from the issue at hand. A news report later in the evening notes that no such smears against the firefighter could be found in a Google search.

Representative Wolf speaks next and comes out swinging, especially at CAIR. He states “My concern about CAIR is not limited to its disturbing origins and connections to terrorist financing. I am equally concerned about CAIR’s role in attacking the reputations of any who dare to raise concerns about domestic radicalization.”

No questions are posed to either Member of Congress after they make their statements. Time for Panel Two, which consists of Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a medical doctor and former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander; Abdirizak Bihi, whose nephew left the states to join al-Shabaab in Somalia; Melvin Bledsoe, the father of Carlos Leon Bledsoe (aka) Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert who attacked an Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas killing one soldier; and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca.

Though I have attended many congressional hearings, I am shocked by the behavior of some of these elected officials as they interact with the witnesses. It is rude and disrespectful—particularly toward Dr. Jasser, who stresses that terrorism will never be eliminated until the political side of Islam is removed. He also notes that there are Muslim groups in the U.S. who are pledging their allegiance to the Koran instead of to the U.S. Constitution. A vast majority of the audience in the room clearly disagrees with Dr. Jasser as there is a lot of eye rolling and snickering when he speaks.

Some examples that I include in my Tweets:

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) condescendingly states that she doesn’t think that the families and Dr. Jasser are “experts” about this issue and that she didn’t find their information “enlightening,” adding that she is Catholic yet cannot speak on pedophilia in the priesthood.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) states that there is no “redeeming factual information” at the hearing and that you can’t “clean a dirty kitchen with dirty water.” She warns that the Constitution is in “pain” and that the hearing should have focused on the civil rights movement. Later, she is gaveled down by Chairman King, as she disregards him multiple times when he tells her that her time to speak has expired. More political theater with no benefit to the issue at hand.

Rep. Al Green (D-TX) chastises Rep. King for not holding a hearing on the KKK, saying that “we’ve had 100 years of terrorism perpetrated by the KKK on Jews and African Americans.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), in a stunningly condescending tone to Dr. Jasser and Mr. Bledsoe, says that “extreme” is in the “eyes of the beholder.”
Also, I am surprised by the callous responses of the audience all around me—most of whom are clearly Muslim-American. Throughout the hearing they laugh at Dr. Jasser and Mr. Bihi—also Muslims. I feel that they are not affected by the pain of the family members at the loss of a child and nephew to radicalization and, in Mr. Bihi’s case, also to death. Mr. Bledsoe’s testimony ends with “God help us! God help us!”

The behavior of the Members of Congress who speak down to Dr. Jasser, Mr. Bihi and Mr. Bledsoe, and the repeated negative reactions these three get from the crowd of Muslims in the hearing room, is disturbing. Over and over we hear from government officials and the media that most Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, and yet when three brave Muslims come forward to speak out against the ideology driving Muslim radicalization they are not praised by these four Members of Congress or most of the Muslims in the crowd—they are belittled. What message does that send to Muslim-Americans who are in agreement with Dr. Jasser? Stand up and be counted? Hardly.

Fortunately, there are Members of Congress who clearly “get it”—in addition to Chairman King—and it’s refreshing.

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) asks Sheriff Baca if he realizes that, when he works so closely with CAIR, he is working with a terrorist organization (Hamas) and he cites the Holy Land Foundation Trial.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) speaks of the political ideology of Islamism. He says that he is “outraged…outraged!” by this Administration’s failure to define the enemy. He shows a slide that demonstrates the number of times words like “enemy,” “jihad,” and “Muslim Brotherhood” are mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report, and then in comparison how many times they are mentioned in the government’s security lexicon—zero.

All this from two freshman Members of Congress. What a difference an election makes! In addition, other Members of Congress such as Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Mike McCaul (R-TX), Paul Broun (R-GA), Mike Rogers (R-AL), Tim Walberg (R-MI), Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Candice Miller (R-MI)—all speak eloquently of the threat of radical Islam to the country and to the Constitution.

After over three and a half hours and lots of furious Tweeting by me, the hearing comes to an end. In the press conference that Chairman King holds immediately afterward he announces that the next hearing will be on Muslim radicalization in the U.S. prison system.

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