And, at least for a while, she did "very well," according to Jibril Hough, spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte. Hough had suggested Thursday night's town hall – part of what Myrick calls her "Conversation With America" -- as an opportunity for the North Carolina congresswoman to clarify her comments on the dangers of "radical Islamic extremists," homegrown and abroad.
Many Muslims, including some of Myrick's constituents, believe her warnings about radicals – and their sympathizers in U.S. government agencies -- working to "throw out our Constitution and force us to live under sharia law" have spread a fear of all Muslims.
Myrick, (R-N.C.), has always insisted that she is not talking about "mainstream" and "moderate" Muslims, such as the ones she features in her latest YouTube video. On Thursday she gave her qualifier again; but she didn't back down. Neither did a long line of mostly Muslim-Americans, grateful that she traveled from Washington but also anxious about the tone and substance of her cause. Click play below to watch her video:
"When somebody wants to kill somebody else, when somebody wants to destroy somebody else," that's extreme, Myrick said in answer to a question from Muslim-American veteran Elmer Lowe, who was applauded for his service.
"I don't think there's anybody here who would support that," said Myrick, who is the founder of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus and serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"As Americans, we want to work together for the same purpose; we want to take a stand against the radical extremists who threaten our America and our American way of life," she said. Radicalization is "a form of cancer; we've got a means to cure it."
Myrick passed out copies of the foreword she wrote for "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America," the book by former Air Force investigator P. David Gaubatz and journalist Paul Sperry that accuses the nonprofit civil-rights advocacy group, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), of, among other things, placing spies as interns on Capitol Hill. The foreword read, in part: "Government officials need to stop hiding behind political correctness and keep American people informed."
She showed charts and maps and video clips. She blamed the media, in part, for misrepresenting her views on Islam.
She explained how the much-repeated comments she was criticized for in 2003 ("Look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country. Every little town you go into, you know?") were made after a cigarette-smuggling and money-laundering case in Charlotte was tied to Hezbollah.
She responded to comments for an hour and a half from all comers in the open-to the-public forum at the Government Center in Charlotte. Most of the questions and the occasional speech came from Muslim-Americans in a diverse crowd of about 200. Myrick didn't exactly answer some of them (such as one asking if the tax protester who recently flew his plane into the side of a federal building in Austin, Texas could be labeled "a terrorist"). However, she and most in the audience were respectful.
An exception was a disagreement among audience members when Iranian-American Bahman Maalizadeh connected the persecution of women in Iran with Islamic extremists and was interrupted by shouts. "This is what's wrong," Myrick said.
Pointing to polls and surveys, several speakers cautioned that "conservative Islam does not clash with democracy," that there are many political moderates who do not endorse terrorism but who cherish their religion. "If you engage only with a small circle of secular Muslims," said Queens University professor Mohammed el-Nawawy, "you would be alienating the overwhelming majority of Muslims."
Izzat Saymeh, a 31-year-old businessman, suggested that instead of a 10-point anti-terrorism proposal, with words that can be used by anti-Islamic hate groups, Myrick should "champion the rights of the Muslims who feel threatened" with a 10-point "anti-hate proposal." When Myrick asked him to "put some ideas on paper," Saymeh said he would have them for her, "right before the election," drawing the biggest and most relaxed laughs of the night.
The laughter stopped when Myrick introduced two speakers, examples of the moderate, mainstream Muslims that she counts as advisers.
Phoenix physician M. Zuhdi Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) in 2003 to serve as an "example of an American Islamic institution which can be a leading voice for liberty-minded Muslims in America in the war on terror," its website reads.
"We as Muslims are in denial," Jasser said. He decried what he called the "victimology" of groups such as CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He also called women elected as heads of state in Muslim countries "window dressing in a system that is medieval."
Hough said the comments were "condescending, disrespectful and un-Islamic."
Jasser later said the forum was an internal Muslim dialogue that needs to happen. "We try to do this in mosques and they shut us down."
Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource, Development and Education (WORDE) -- an "Islamic Ideology Think Tank" -- traveled from Washington to speak on behalf of Myrick's efforts. Mirahmadi, 40, wearing a headscarf, said she became religious later in life, drawn to Islam because of "the inner spirit of it, the closeness I find to God."
"Islamist radicals have redefined our religion," she said. "We have to undo the way they have defined Islam." Mirahmadi said she hoped the community "saw a real side of Sue. She's not out to get Muslims."
Bill Grifenhagen, 64, and his wife, Gloria, are not Muslim. They came to the forum because they are concerned that there "has not been enough pushback from the other 95 percent of Muslims against radical Islam," Bill said before the forum. "Most Americans believe we're heading into some very difficult times from a terrorism standpoint." Afterward, he said the meeting had "given me hope."
Rose Hamid, former head of Muslim Women of the Carolinas, had a different reaction. The last two speakers "made me understand it was all staged," she said. Myrick "was not trying to hear from the Muslims, she was here to deliver a message."
Hamid also worried that Myrick is carrying out a "witch hunt against CAIR," which she said has been extremely important in bringing civil rights to the Muslim community. But "if I attended one of their functions" honoring a charitable cause, she said, "I'm afraid of being tainted as a terrorist."
With two sides starting out so far apart, maybe this first meeting was the most that could be hoped for. Hough, who had taken pre-meeting heat from some Muslim groups for his part in arranging it, was pleased it had taken place at all. Despite having had knee surgery earlier in the day and sitting uncomfortably for two hours, he thought it was worth it, and hopes Myrick will visit a mosque -- open to all -- the next time.
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