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Richmond Times Dispatch - Cantor Backs Hearing on Radical Islam

Location: Richmond, VA

By: Olympia Meola

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is defending today's scheduled hearing on radical Islam, saying it's meant "to try and assess how we can better work with the Muslim community in America to stop the spread of radical Islam."

Cantor, R-7th, cited the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, and said "we have seen other evidence in America about the spread of radical Islam."

"If you look internationally and certainly in the Middle East ... our priorities should be to stop the spread of radical Islam," he said Tuesday during a meeting with reporters. "That is in the security interests of the United States. So it is consistent with that notion that (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.) is proceeding," he said.

The hearings are stirring concern among members of the Muslim community, however, including some in the Richmond area, who fear generalizations.

Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, has said he supports Congress asking questions about national security but would in this case prefer a different tack from the one of King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

"Congress should not shy away from asking questions, especially when it deals with our security or safety as a nation, but I think the way Representative King is getting at it, and the statements he is making ... is making Congress' job to do that very tough," Damaj said Sunday.

King plans to convene a hearing this morning titled: "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."

King on Wednesday blamed the "hysteria" on his opponents. "The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans. But al-Qaida is recruiting in there and they've had results," he said on NBC's "Today" show.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-2nd, sits on the Homeland Security Committee and plans to attend today's hearing.

"I think of it frankly as a conversation … with one of our faith communities and I think it's entirely appropriate. The people who are there are certainly there voluntarily," he said.

Regarding any concern that people have had about the tone and direction of the hearings, he said, "I think that once they see how they unfold, I think they'll understand that those concerns were not warranted."

Imam Atiy Muhammad of the Petersburg Islamic Center said Sunday that he had not heard about the hearing but stressed that "we don't want the religion to be depicted as a radical religion because of what a few do that is not a part of the religion."

There can be generalizations made after isolated incidents of "some radical carrying out some foolish thoughts they have," he said. "That is what we want to be careful of."

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