Muslims, supporters protest Congressional hearing

NEW YORK Sun Mar 6, 2011 6:53pm EST

1 of 5. Mark Lukens, a pastor at Bethany Congregational Church, holds a sign at the 'Today, I Am A Muslim, Too' rally in New York City March 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Muslims, activists and supporters demonstrated in Times Square on Sunday to protest a Congressional hearing on radicalization of U.S. Muslims.

Holding placards that read "Today I am a Muslim, too," a few hundred gathered at the interfaith protest, decrying what they said was the bigotry and ignorance behind anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, until recently the leader of the controversial plan to build a mosque and cultural center near the former World Trade Center site, said he was concerned this week's scheduled hearing by Representative Peter King on radicalization of U.S. Muslims would only alienate them.

"My concern is the perception among the youth here that Muslims are under attack ... by their own government.

"This helps radicalize people, and we need to reverse that cycle of radicalization," Rauf said.

King, a New York Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN Sunday that while "the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding Americans ... there is an effort to radicalize efforts within the Muslim community."

The protest was organized by an interfaith coalition of community and political leaders and activists, including priests, rabbis and imams.

Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who heads the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, also attended.

"The whole premise of the hearings is absolutely discriminatory" and would only foster fear," Simmons said.

Organizers said inclement weather likely kept attendance down.

A small group of counter-protesters from the Liberty Alliance gathered a few blocks away, while New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm earlier hosted a group opposing King's hearings.

No incidents were reported at either gathering, police said.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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