As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we cannot allow the memory of that tragic day to fade away. We must remember that in the days following the attack we were all united in our dedication to fight back against al-Qaeda and its ideology. Today, we must be fully aware that homegrown radicalization is part of al-Qaeda's strategy to continue attacking the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Long Island Congressmember Peter King, chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, opening yesterday's hearing on what he called the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community. Among the first to testify was Congressmember Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who's the first Muslim elected to Congress.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Throughout human history, individuals from all communities and faiths have used religion and political ideology to justify violence. Let's just think about the KKK, America's oldest terrorist organization; the Oklahoma City bombing; the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by James von Brunn; and bombings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Did Congress focus on the ethnic group or religion of these agents of violence as a matter of public policy? The answer is no.
Stoking fears about an entire group for political agenda is not new in American history. During World War II, the United States government interned the Japanese Americans and spied on German Americans. During John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, his opponents portrayed a dire future for an America with a Catholic president. We now view these events of our past as a breach of our treasured American values.
As leaders, we need to be rigorous about our analysis of violent extremism. Our responsibility includes doing no harm. I am concerned that the focus of today's hearing may increase suspicion of the American Muslim community, ultimately making us all a little less safe. We have seen the consequences of Anti-Muslim sentiment, from backlash against Park51 Muslim Community Center to the hostilities against the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to a threatened Quran burning in Gainesville, Florida. Zoning boards in communities like DuPage, Illinois, are denying permits to build mosques. At the height of the Park51 controversy, a man asked a cabbie whether he was a Muslim. When the cabbie said, "As-salamu alaykum," which means "Peace be unto you," the individual stabbed him.
Let me close with a true story, but remember that it's only one of many American stories that could be told. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and Muslim American. He was one of those brave first responders who tragically lost his life in 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As the New York Times eulogized, he wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore number 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived. He was called Sal by his friends. He became a research assistant at the Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang Handel's Messiah in Queens. He saw all of the Star Wars movies. And it's well known that his new Honda was the one that read--with the "Young Jedi" license plates.- Advertisement -
Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try to help others on 9/11. After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character, solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Emotional testimony from Congressman Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, the first Muslim elected to Congress, telling the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who died on 9/11 in the attacks on the World Trade Center. He was 23 years old. Sitting behind Congressman Ellison at the hearing was Salman's mother, Talat Hamdani. She joins us today in the studio today.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It's very good to have you, Talat.
TALAT HAMDANI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were attending this hearing before you even knew Congressman Ellison would raise the story of your son?
TALAT HAMDANI: Yes, the moment I discovered that the hearings will be held, I decided I have to go. And I got two seats from my congressman, Tim Bishop, and he was very--I'm very grateful--instrumental in getting me those two seats. And Keith Ellison, you know, I had no clue that he will be talking about Salman. But he had called me the night before, I guess, when he had discovered that I am attending the hearings, to take permission to mention Salman. And I said, "Fine, it would be an honor."
JUAN GONZALEZ: But you didn't expect that he would present such a long presentation on the role of your son.
TALAT HAMDANI: No. Yes, I thought he would just mention, like he did at the beginning. And that's what was--I thought that would be it.
AMY GOODMAN: What is so astounding about your son is the fact that he wasn't even in the area. He rushed to the area to help people.
TALAT HAMDANI: Voluntarily.