THERE'S a scene in "The Godfather, Part II" that used to make my Italian blood boil like a bubbling ragu.

Michael Corleone is testifying before a Senate panel investigating organized crime. It's a cinematic recreation of the Kefauver or Valachi hearings that were aimed at dismantling the Mafia empire, one capo at a time.

The committee chairman who questions Michael Corleone displays an ill-concealed contempt for people of Italian origin, even the ones who preferred pizza to pistols. At least, that's how it seemed to me as an impressionable child (who probably shouldn't have been watching "Godfather II" anyway.)

This was his response:

"I consider it a great dishonor to me personally to have to deny that I am a criminal.

"I wish to have the following noted for the record: That I served my country faithfully and honorably in World War II, and was awarded the Navy Cross for actions in defense of my country . . . that no proof linking me to any criminal conspiracy, whether it is called Mafia or Cosa Nostra or whatever other name you wish to give, has ever been made public . . .

" I challenge this committee to produce any witness or evidence against me, and, if they do not, I hope they will have the decency to clear my name with the same publicity with which they now have besmirched it.

And my 13-year-old self would stand up and cheer. How dare they, I thought, defame an entire group because of a few bad apples. (Or in this case, tomatoes.)

Of course, I was ignoring the fact that Michael Corleone had a lot of blood on his hands, including his own brother's. But in my naivete, all I saw was an attack on the good people I'd grown up with and loved. It stirred my sense of injustice.

That's why I have empathy for the people angered at the prospect of Rep. Peter King's hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans. Many Muslims who were born in this country and have absolutely no connection with the the radical groups that have taken root in the Islam world are justifiably annoyed that the House chairman of Homeland Security would open hearings specifically directed at examining their religion, their people and the threat that they allegedly pose to our national security.

But it's disingenuous to try to completely separate the religion from the violence being committed in its name, just as it was naïve for 13-year-old Christine to get annoyed at the suggestion that Italian-Americans had to answer for La Cosa Nostra.

While the vast majority of Italians were law-abiding citizens, a significant segment of the population either belonged to or supported those stylized thugs. That's why the government was justified in having those hearings way back when.

And that's why Peter King is justified in staging his hearings.

While the vast majority of U.S. Muslims are as peace-loving and law-abiding as their Italian counterparts, far too many either support or refuse to condemn the actions committed in the name of their religion.

Just as virtually every member of La Cosa Nostra was Italian, virtually every member of al Qaeda is Muslim, as are their radical sympathizers in this country. And that's a fact that can't be ignored, even by the editorialists with their politically correct blinders and their strange rationalizations.

It was predictable that the New York Times would blast King for putting on a "show trial," evoking images of Stalin and star chambers. It was less predictable, but equally disturbing, that President Obama's deputy national security adviser would make a direct hit on the congressman by saying (at a Virginia mosque) that this country doesn't practice "guilt by association." King is not engaging in some baseless sort of "collective blame," and the administration is fully aware of that fact, hyperbole notwithstanding.

As King noted in response, the reason he's holding hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims is that there is no other distinct group that has been responsible for acts of terror. You can say that white males like Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber and Bill Ayers are a suspect demographic.

But they've been remarkably quiet lately. You can't say that for those screaming "Allahu Akbar" as they pull the trigger.

To deny that Islam has a particularly relevant connection to terror is the same as if I said the Italians were unfairly singled out for creating the Five Families.

So it's time to stop criticizing King for being a bigot. He's giving us a chance to eliminate a dangerous threat to society - and clear the innocent in the process. In my opinion, that's an offer we shouldn't refuse.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. E-mail

cflowers1961@yahoo.com. She blogs at philly.com/philly/blogs/flowersshow.