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McCarthyism Revisited: Peter King’s Modern-day Witch Hunt

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) claimed Thursday as he launched his McCarthyite probe of American Muslims. He could not have been more wrong. If King is looking for threats to our freedoms and values, a mirror would be the place to start.

Here’s why. Imagine a young man, a Muslim, who changes in troubling ways. His two best friends become concerned, then alarmed, as the young man abandons Western dress, displays a newfound religiosity and begins to echo jihadist rhetoric about the decadence of American society. Both friends suspect that the young man has become radicalized and might even attempt some kind of terrorist attack.

One friend is Muslim, the other Christian. Does the Muslim friend have a greater responsibility than the Christian to contact the authorities? By the logic of King’s witch hunt, he does.

The Homeland Security Committee hearings that King has convened are billed as an inquiry into “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” In other words, King suspects that the Muslim community is somehow complicit. Individuals of one faith are implicated; individuals of another faith are not.

As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims in Congress, said in his moving testimony, King’s premise assigns “collective blame” to American Muslims. “Demanding a community response . . . asserts that the entire community bears responsibility,” Ellison said.

In his pugnacious opening statement, King noted that his plan to hold these hearings had been criticized by “special-interest groups and the media,” which he said had gone into “paroxysms of rage and hysteria” at the prospect. “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness,” he said. In case someone missed the point, King later said it was our duty to “put aside political correctness and define who our enemy truly is.”

King asserted that “this committee cannot live in denial.” He then went straight there – into denial – by paying no heed to the witness best situated to answer the committee’s question.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca testified in opposition to King’s premise, citing figures demonstrating that radical, extremist acts of crime are committed by non-Muslims as well, and that seven of the past 10 known terrorist plots involving al-Qaeda have been foiled in part by information provided by Muslim Americans. Baca said his officers have good, productive relationships with Muslim leaders and citizens. Law enforcement officials from other jurisdictions where there are large Muslim communities could have given similar testimony, had they been invited.

King is trying to peddle the hooey that moderate Muslims do not speak out against extremism. It took Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) to note the irony that among the committee’s witnesses were two devout Muslims – one Syrian American, the other Somali American – who were there to speak out, quite loudly, against extremism.

King, in effect, was demanding to know why he didn’t see what was taking place before his eyes. Perhaps he was distracted by the need to maintain constant vigilance for any hint of political correctness.

That’s really what King’s grandstanding is all about. The purpose of these hearings isn’t to gather information. If it were, officials of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would have been asked to testify. In addition to inviting Minneapolis-based Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American whose nephew was recruited by the terrorist organization al-Shabab, King could have brought in police from the Twin Cities to testify about cooperation by the Somali immigrant community.

King’s intent is theatrical, not substantive; he’s not trying to elicit facts, he’s inviting catcalls – and cheers.

It should not be so, but Islamophobia is a powerful force in American politics. There are those who will applaud King for associating the phrase “American Muslim community” with the phrase “who our enemy truly is.”

But decency is a powerful force, too. The hearing’s indelible moment came when Ellison broke down in tears. He was telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a young Muslim who rushed into the World Trade Center to try to rescue victims just before the towers collapsed. His remains were found in the rubble.

Hamdani was not just a Muslim, Ellison said, fighting to choke out words that no one could dismiss as politically correct. He was “an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”

By: Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed Columnist, The Washington Post, March 10, 2011

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Congress, Democracy, GOP, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Justice, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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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