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Should Rep. Peter King Investigate The Catholic Church?

Rep. Peter King, the Long Island congressman who for years supported the Irish Republican Army as it waged a terror campaign to eject the British from Northern Ireland, says that track record has no bearing on his controversial decision to hold hearings this week on what he calls the “radicalization” of Islam in America.

The two examples are different, he argues, and the main reason is that unlike radical Muslims, the I.R.A. never launched attacks in the United States. (That made sense, since Irish-Americans were sending crucial material support to the I.R.A.)

“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States,” King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told The New York Times.

Okay, so how about investigating the Roman Catholic Church, another religious community — like Islam — and one to which the Irish-Catholic congressman also professes great loyalty?

As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen pointed out on Tuesday, if Congress is going to start investigating religious groups whose members have attacked Americans, that could be bad news for the Catholic Church given the extent of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. (And Cohen’s piece was published hours before the latest shocker, the mass suspension of 21 priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia following a grand jury probe — the second since 2005 — of the sexual abuse of children by clergy in the city.)

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League jumped on Cohen — as is his wont — for citing an exaggerated figure of 100,000 possible victims of clergy abuse, noting, correctly, that the figure is more like 12,000 (though this crime is notoriously under reported). Donohue did not, however, dispute Cohen’s central premise about the problematic nature of King’s investigation of Islam, and a toll of thousands of children abused over five decades is hardly what the lawyers might call exculpatory evidence.

Little wonder that former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican, onetime FBI agent and federal prosecutor, and devout Catholic, likened some bishops to the Mafia when he was named in 2002 to be the first head of a lay oversight board to keep the hierarchy honest in its abuse-prevention policies.

Such characterizations got Keating forced out by the bishops after a year in the post, and his resignation letter still minced no words: “To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.”

Of course, a congressional investigation of the Catholic Church would be met with howls of protests from the likes of Donohue and most certainly Peter King, and rightly so.

The point is that the religious community that Muslims today most clearly resemble is the Roman Catholic Church, and it was thus as recently as King’s own youth, when John F. Kennedy barely won election due to concerns that one could not be a “good Catholic” and a “good American.”

Indeed, during the campaign Kennedy famously had to assure Protestant pastors that he would never take orders from the Vatican (a pronouncement many conservative Christians today now hold against Kennedy and his Catholic heirs in the Democratic Party — sometimes you can’t win for losing).

King’s hearing set for Thursday has been compared to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, while others speculated that they would be akin to holding congressional hearings on the role of Christianity in promoting violence against gays or abortion providers.

But the Islamic-Catholic analogy is most apt.

Like Muslims in America today, Catholics were seen as foreign-born immigrants who were subject to a foreign ruler, namely the Pope in Rome, who did not recognize religious freedom and democratic governance.

The latter charges were actually true, more or less, until the reforms of the 1960s, though American Catholics took little notice of such teachings, much as American Muslims would stare blankly if asked about the latest fatwa from some imam in Iran.

(In 1928, New York Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated as a presidential candidate, was challenged by a prominent Episcopal layman to explain how he could expect to uphold the Constitution if elected while at the same time accepting the teaching in papal encyclicals. “What the hell is an encyclical?” Smith reportedly asked. He still got creamed by Herbert Hoover.)

During the 19th century a major political party was founded to combat Catholic influence, and Catholic students were unable to attend public schools without having to imbibe Protestant teachings. Catholics were subject to outbursts of popular violence, and when the pope donated a stone for the construction of the Washington Monument in 1854, an anti-Catholic mob threw it into the Potomac River. Thomas Nast’s famous 1875 cartoon, “The American River Ganges,” showed St. Peter’s Basilica in the background with mitred Catholic bishops as crocodiles attacking the United States to devour the nation’s schoolchildren.

Such sentiments were all too common, as were efforts — as Paul Moses noted in Commonweal magazine — to stop the construction of Catholic churches in U.S. cities, almost a mirror image of the fierce arguments last year against construction of the so-called “ground zero” mosque, also known as the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan.

It was King, in fact, who had a key role in fomenting opposition to the Islamic center, saying early last year that it was “particularly offensive” because “so many Muslim leaders have failed to speak out against radical Islam, against the attacks” of 9/11.

Those arguments laid the ground work for King’s subsequent charges that American Muslims and their leaders are not cooperating with authorities to thwart terrorist plots and that 80 percent of mosques in America are controlled by radical imams. Even though King has provided no evidence for the charges — and the latest research counters his claims — he is going ahead with a hearing to “test” his hypothesis.

King continued his line of argumentation on the eve of the hearing, telling the Associated Press 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 said. He could have been talking about his own Catholic community in the 1800s.

It is also interesting to note that Catholics often reacted to such denigration by trying to prove they were more patriotic than the Founding Fathers which, as Notre Dame church historians R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy have pointed out, sometimes led to excesses like Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist hearings of the 1950s.

That’s a historical parallel Peter King may also want to remember.

By: David Gibson, Religion Reporter, Politics Daily, March 9, 2011

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Constitution, Equal Rights, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Politics, Racism, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“From Irish Radical To Muslim Inquisitor”

For Representative Peter T. King, as he seizes the national spotlight this week with a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, it is the most awkward of résumé entries. Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army.

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

As Mr. King, a Republican, rose as a Long Island politician in the 1980s, benefiting from strong Irish-American support, the I.R.A. was carrying out a bloody campaign of bombing and sniping, targeting the British Army, Protestant paramilitaries and sometimes pubs and other civilian gathering spots. His statements, along with his close ties to key figures in the military and political wings of the I.R.A., drew the attention of British and American authorities.

A judge in Belfast threw him out of an I.R.A. murder trial, calling him an “obvious collaborator,” said Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist and author of “A Secret History of the I.R.A.” In 1984, Mr. King complained that the Secret Service had investigated him as a “security risk,” Mr. Moloney said.

In later years, by all accounts, Mr. King became an important go-between in talks that led to peace in Northern Ireland, drawing on his personal contacts with leaders of I.R.A.’s political wing, Sinn Fein, and winning plaudits from both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the former president and the British prime minister.

But as Mr. King, 66, prepares to preside Thursday as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee at the first of a series of hearings on Muslim radicalization, his pro-I.R.A. past gives his many critics an obvious opening. The congressman’s assertions that 85 percent of leaders of American mosques hold extremist views and that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement have alarmed Muslim groups, some counterterrorism experts and even a few former allies in Irish-American causes.

Mr. King, son of a New York City police officer and grand-nephew of an I.R.A. member, offers no apologies for his past, which he has celebrated in novels that feature a Irish-American congressman with I.R.A. ties who bears a striking resemblance to the author.

Of comparisons between the terrorism of the I.R.A. and that of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, Mr. King said: “I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

He said he does not regret his past pro-I.R.A. statements. The Irish group, he said, was “a legitimate force” battling British repression — analogous to the African National Congress in South Africa or the Zionist Irgun paramilitary in British-ruled Palestine. “It was a dirty war on both sides,” he said of I.R.A. resistance to British rule.

As for the hearings, he noted that counterterrorism officials from the Obama administration have often spoken, especially since a string of largely homegrown plots since 2009, of the threat from American Muslims who take on radical views. “Al Qaeda is recruiting from the Muslim community,” he said. “If they were recruiting from the Irish community, I’d say we should look at that.”

Mr. King’s witnesses at the hearing will feature a fellow House Republican, Frank Wolf of Virginia; Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who is Muslim; Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim physician and activist who has been sharply critical of some fellow Muslims; and two family members of young men who embraced extremist violence. (The committee’s top Democrat, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, has invited Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, who has praised Muslim assistance to law enforcement, and Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who has many Muslim constituents.)

The furor about the hearing is less about the witness lineup, which does not seem especially incendiary, than about statements by Mr. King that appear to spread blame for terrorism to the entire population of American Muslims.

“This hearing is not focusing on the acts of a criminal fringe but is broad-brushing an entire community,” said Alejandro J. Beutel, policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington.

Mr. Beutel, who has compiled a database of terrorist incidents since 2001, said the problem of radicalization of young Muslims is serious, and his group has helped counter it with a number of measures, including a video featuring nine imams speaking against extremism that has become a Web hit. But he said broadly accusing Muslims of complicity in terrorism will hamstring the fight to prevent extremism, which depends on tips from citizens willing and unafraid to contact authorities.

Even Mr. King’s critics acknowledge a fundamental difference between the violence carried out by the I.R.A., which usually sought with varying success to minimize civilian casualties, and that of Al Qaeda, which has done the opposite. The I.R.A. was responsible for 1,826 of 3,528 deaths during the Northern Irish conflict between 1969 and 2001, including those of several hundred civilians, said the historian Malcolm Sutton.

“King’s exactly right to say there’s a difference of approach between the I.R.A. and Al Qaeda,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International and a former British military intelligence officer. “But I personally consider both of them terrorist groups.”

Mr. Parker was at a birthday party for a friend in London in 1990 when the I.R.A. tossed a bomb onto the roof of the rented hall, a historic barracks. Many people, including Mr. Parker, were injured, but none died, by lucky chance of location and quick medical response, he said.

What troubles him, Mr. Parker said, is that Mr. King “understands the pull of ancestral ties. He took a great interest in a terrorist struggle overseas. He’s a guy who could bring real insight to this situation.” Instead, he said, “he is damaging cooperation from the greatest allies the U.S. has in counterterrorism.”

Some who have been close to Mr. King agree. Niall O’Dowd, an Irish-born New York publisher and writer who worked with him on the peace process in the 1990s, broke publicly with him Monday on his Web site, IrishCentral.com, describing Mr. King’s “strange journey from Irish radical to Muslim inquisitor.”

In Northern Ireland, Mr. O’Dowd said, they saw a Catholic community “demonized” by its Protestant and British critics and worked to bring it to the peace table. Seeing his old friend similarly “demonize” Muslims has shocked him, he said.

“I honestly feel Peter is wrong, and his own experience in Northern Ireland teaches him that,” Mr. O’Dowd said. “He’s a very honest, working-class Irish guy from Queens who’s had an amazing career. Now I see a man turning back on himself, and I don’t know why.”

By: Scott Shane, The New York Times, March 8, 2011. Original Post: For Lawmaker Examining Terror, a Pro-IRA Past

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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