Washington (AP) - The Republican congressman who has organized controversial hearings into radical Islam called Muslims "part of the mosaic" of America Wednesday and said they shouldn't feel threatened or intimidated by his inquiry.
"If there is going to be animosity, I would blame it on my opponents," Rep. Peter King said in a nationally broadcast interview.
King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, has come under withering criticism for the hearings scheduled to begin Thursday. Protests already have started, and comparisons to McCarthyism and the era of communist witch hunts are being heard.
In one appearance on morning television, King was asked if he was singling out the Muslim community rather than focusing on a more generalized terror threat against America.
"It might be politically correct, but it makes no sense to talk about other types of extremism, when the main threat to the United States today is talking about al Qaida," King said. He noted that Attorney General Eric Holder has said there have been some 50 homegrown terrorists arrested in this country and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the threat has never been higher.
"It would diffuse and water down the hearings" to broaden the line of inquiry, King said. The congressman said the hearings are aimed at protecting Muslims from being pressured to commit terrorist acts.
Rep. Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, faulted his colleague for inviting only a single law enforcement witness. The Minnesota Democrat also accused King of prejudging his committee's inquiry, saying the controversy surrounding the hearings are setting "a tone of blame" even before the inquiry is gaveled to order.
"What we want to do is build cooperation and trust and open lines of communication," Ellison said.
King promised to "run a good hearing. I will run an honest and fair hearing."
"As an example of my good faith, I invited Congressman Ellison to testify at this hearing," King said. "If I was somehow trying to ram the hearing through, I certainly wouldn't have invited Keith Ellison."
The congressman said he hoped his critics would embrace his inquiry and put aside "all this yelling and screaming that's going on."
King told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that radical Islam is a distinct threat that must be investigated regardless of whose sensibilities are offended.
"You have a violent enemy from overseas which threatens us and which is recruiting people from a community living in our country," King told The AP. He said that's what the hearing is all about.
King and Ellison appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," and King also was interviewed on CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today" show and on CNN.