New York (AP) - A legislative hearing on New York's readiness for another terrorist attack degenerated into name-calling and bruised feelings Friday after a state senator solicited testimony from two activists known for their hard line on Islam and opposition to the construction of new mosques in the United States.
Sen. Greg Ball, a Hudson Valley Republican, angered some Muslims and civil liberties groups by inviting Nonie Darwish and Frank Gaffney to discuss "the culture of jihad," or Muslim holy war, at a daylong hearing that was otherwise devoted to the nuts and bolts of homeland security preparedness.
Darwish, who was born in Egypt and converted to Christianity after immigrating to the U.S., has written books assailing Islam as oppressive to women, intolerant and diametrically opposed to American views about individual liberty.
Gaffney is a top proponent of the claim that there is a global conspiracy by Muslim leaders and institutions to overthrow the U.S. government and replace the Constitution with Islamic religious law.
During Darwish's testimony Friday before the Senate's homeland security and military affairs committee, she argued that Islam is a threat to the U.S. She said that schools and mosques throughout the Arab world commonly teach children to embrace violence as a way of dealing with nonbelievers and that women are brutally punished for perceived sexual crimes.
"You're supposed to hate America," she said. "You're supposed to hate Western culture."
That brought an angry response from Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat.
"It wasn't the Quran that brought down our buildings," he told Darwish. "You are bringing hate and poison into a diverse country."
Addressing Ball, the committee chairman, he demanded to know "why are we allowing her to bring this poison into a hearing" dealing with the state's preparations for a possible terror attack.
That brought a taunting retort from Ball, who accused his colleague of grandstanding.
"I know you like the TV cameras," Ball said. "And I'm glad nobody is in between those TV cameras and you, because that's the most dangerous place in New York City right now."
That didn't quite end the argument. Darwish, continuing her argument that her former religion was a sinister ideology, went on to complain that Islam allowed men to have women as slaves for sexual purposes.
"Are you aware of the number of Muslim cops who are protecting the city?" said Adams, who was a police officer for two decades before becoming a legislator.
Later in the hearing, Ball said he was trying to get every viewpoint, and to illustrate that point he also called two pro-Islam witnesses, including a representative of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, and Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York.
Sarsour, a Brooklyn native, said there were hundreds of thousands of peace-loving, law-abiding Muslims in the city. She said giving a public platform to people who wished to assail the religion in the name of national security just added to "a new era of increasing xenophobia."
"We are part of the solution," she said of her fellow Arab-American New Yorkers.
Her testimony was followed later by that of Gaffney, who said virtually every major Muslim group in the U.S. was part of an effort - part political, part military - to impose Islamic religious law on the country and install a supreme leader, or caliph, to rule over all.
Gaffney said there are terrorist training camps operating in the U.S. right now, including one in upstate New York, where jihadists are preparing for armed insurrection.
Other witnesses at the hearing included police union officials who testified about problems with law enforcement radio systems, a retired immigration agent who said illegal immigration was jeopardizing national security, energy company officials who talked about security at nuclear power plants, and senior officials at several law enforcement agencies.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican, also spoke for several minutes about a variety of security topics. King clashed with Muslims last month after he organized congressional hearings into the radicalization of Muslims in America.
He briefly addressed that issue Friday, saying the hearings left him more convinced than ever that Islamic terror groups have created a clandestine "assembly line" in the U.S. to recruit American Muslims to armed struggle.