Hearings planned this week by Long Island Rep. Peter King on the "radicalization" of American Muslims sparked demonstrations Sunday on both sides of the debate.
King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asserted in an interview broadcast Sunday that al-Qaida terrorists are targeting Muslim youth in this country, previewing his hearings that begin Thursday.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding Americans, but at this stage in our history there's an effort ... to radicalize elements within the Muslim community,'' he said.
"It's there and that's where the threat is coming from at this time,'' King said.
His words and the upcoming hearing galvanized groups on both sides of the issue Sunday.
Hip hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons told NBC New York at one rally that these kinds of hearings "promote greater hate" because they tap into what he said is an atmosphere of "Islamophobia."
Simmons joined Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, actor Adrian Grenier and a coalition of more than 100 interfaith and nonprofit groups who protested in Times Square against the hearings.
Demonstrators said the hearings send the wrong message to U.S. Muslims by "demonizing'' them.
"Our real enemy is not Islam or Muslims," said Rauf. "The enemy is extremism and radicalism and radical ideology."
Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, one of two Muslims in Congress, said he wanted to say "to the Peter Kings of the world: We will not take your xenophobic behavior."
Simmons promised "to make sure that this rally is taken to the next generation and to a new age" by enlisting entertainers and sports figures to tweet about it, including Kim Kardashian, who tweeted Sunday that she stood with Simmons in "promoting love and compassion."
A smaller group rallied a few blocks away at Seventh Avenue and 38th Street in support of King's hearings.
Beth Gilinsky of the Jewish Action Alliance heaped scorn on the Times Square rally's slogan, "Today I am a Muslim too."
"I want to tell Imam Rauf and Imam Shamsi Ali and all of the rest of them up there that I am not a Muslim today," Gilinsky said. "Yesterday I wasn't a Muslim. Today I'm not a Muslim. I'm not going to be a Muslim for even 24 hours, Imam Rauf, and I'm not going to be a Muslim tomorrow. You will not convert me."
Taking up King's call for a national discussion, the White House sent President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, to a Northern Virginia mosque to speak late Sunday at an interfaith gathering.
McDonough commended the mosque's members for taking "an unequivocal stand against terrorism."