Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, was overcome by emotion during testimony delivered at a controversial Homeland Security Committee hearing Thursday on the alleged radicalism of Muslim Americans. Ellison spent much of the week openly criticizing what will be a series of hearings on the topic and warned in his remarks that the “committee’s approach to violent extremism is contrary to American values and threatens our security.” The best defense, he added, is social inclusion and civic engagement.
The Minnesota Democrat broke down in tears as he closed his remarks with a tribute to Mohammed Salman Hamandi, a 23-year-old firefighter who lost his life trying to save victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“Mohammed Salman Hamandi was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens,” Ellison said, weeping.
It was a jarring contrast to opening remarks delivered by Rep. Pete King (R-New York), who chairs the panel. He was quick to acknowledge opposition to hearings, which have been labeled as McCarthy-like for specifically targeting Muslims, but he also defended them as a “logical response to urgent warnings” from the administration about Al Qaeda’s growing influence in the U.S.
“I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward. And they will,” said King. “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.”
Panelists included Melvin Bledsoe, an African-American from Memphis whose son converted to Islam, became radicalized in the U.S. and is currently incarcerated in Little Rock, facing one count of a capital murder charge. In his testimony, Bledsoe warned against the danger of ignoring the potential influence of radical Islam on American youth.
“We are losing American babies. Our children are in danger. We must stand up and do something about the problem,” Bledsoe said. “I’d like to see something change [so] that no other family in this great country of ours has to go through what our family is facing today.”
Arizona physician and Fox News regular M. Zuhdi Jasser, who is Muslim, testified that it is the Muslim community’s responsibility to curb radicalism. He said that the “silent Muslim majority” needs to “do some self-repair instead of turning a blind eye.”
Ellison later told BET.news that aside from Los Angeles County Sherriff Lee Baca, who shared insights from his work with the L.A. Muslim community, lawmakers learned little about how to deal with radicalization.
“We didn’t learn anything, except from Baca, about the real science and statistics about protecting America,” Ellison said. “The other witnesses had heart rendering stories but they didn’t yield any actionable information we could use to build policy.” Ellison said he hopes that future hearings will be different.
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