The controversial congressional hearing Thursday on the "extent of radicalization" of American Muslims could easily go one of two ways.
It could be an informative, useful exploration of what more can be done to strengthen moderate Islam and to root out any dangerous extremists.
Or, it could descend into religious bigotry – the demonization of an entire group of Americans, further dividing this country and undermining the fight against terror.
It's up to Rep. Peter King of New York, who called the hearing, to make sure it is helpful, not hurtful.
The burden also falls on King's fellow Republicans who control the House Committee on Homeland Security, including Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River. He says that King is being unfairly maligned for bringing a serious issue "to public light."
"We need to understand better this process of radicalization going on in this country," Lungren said Tuesday from Washington.
Many civil rights groups and Democrats, however, are skeptical. Rep. Jackie Speier of San Mateo, a committee member, issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the hearing as an "ideologically motivated charade." "Hearings driven by intolerance inflame anti-American sentiment," she said. "Our nation deserves better."
The witness list does offer some hope that the hearing will be balanced. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is the first Muslim elected to Congress, will lead off. Also scheduled to testify is Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who has supported Muslim groups and praised their cooperation with law enforcement. Two relatives of young Muslim men who joined terrorist groups and a Muslim leader from Arizona who believes his community isn't doing enough will also address the committee.
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