The media has been on fire this week with stories of Congressman Peter King (R-NY but thankfully not my district) and his upcoming Congressional hearings on the radicalization of America’s Muslim community, which seem to signal a new birth of McCarthyism and sanctioned Islamophobia in our nation’s capital. Despite fierce criticism, King said, “I’d like the media to accept that this can be a conversation without anyone being accused of being a bigot.”
Sorry, but no. Since these hearings are not meant to uncover new evidence, solve any problems, or create any useful legislation, bigotry is the only logical explanation. They’re taxpayer-funded concern-trolling, with no purpose except to buttress existing prejudice against Muslims in the US, and fan the flames of Islamophobia as we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
But since his bigotry’s obvious, I’d rather focus on Peter King’s appalling hypocrisy in anointing himself Congress’s leader in the war on terrorism—because for decades Peter King loved nothing more than to pal around with terrorists.
Consider: Peter King was a staunch supporter of the terrorist Irish Republican Army during the Troubles, the 30-year period of violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. In fact, King raised money for NORAID, an Irish-American organization that was often accused of running guns and money for the Provisional IRA. He was such an outspoken advocate of the terrorist organization that a Belfast judge once called him “an obvious collaborator” and British censors banned him from the BBC. King’s great-uncle was an IRA member, and King was a particular friend of Gerry Adams, the current Sinn Féin leader and former Provisional IRA terrorist who helped plan the 1972 Bloody Friday attack that detonated 22 bombs in Belfast’s city center. Simply put, our self-appointed terrorist-fighter Peter King has closer personal ties to organized terrorism than just about any elected official in the US.
King and his defenders make the point that the IRA and Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are very different—which is true in terms of their cultural origins and some of their political motives, but less true of their tactics. Still, while Peter King glorified the IRA as “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland,” the IRA bombed roads, buses, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, even launching a mortar attack on Heathrow Airport in 1994 that forced it to shut down temporarily. Almost 2,000 civilians were murdered by the IRA during the Troubles.
None of the IRA’s attacks, however, occurred in Peter King’s backyard, which is why Peter King claims that he can fight Islamic terrorists at home, but support Catholic ones overseas with a clear conscience: “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.”
That’s a common and particularly noxious form of American exceptionalism: what Americans do to other people in other countries doesn’t really matter; what matters is what other people do to Americans. To Peter King’s way of thinking, American Catholics sponsoring the terrorists who planted bombs in Shankhill Road isn’t as bad as American Muslims sponsoring the terrorists who planted bombs in Times Square. The civilians of Belfast—and everywhere else the IRA attacked—aren’t American, so why should he care?
King has said of the Congressional hearings on Muslim radicals, “If I had made this about the Christian right or militia movements, I doubt there would have been this knee-jerk reaction [accusing him of bigotry].”
He’s right, and it does beg the question: Why didn’t we have Congressional hearings to root out right-wing Christian terrorists in America? After all, they killed 168 people and injured 680 in Oklahoma City in 1995. Peter King’s loyalty is to the United States, and that was an attack on American soil that killed Americans, so why didn’t he call for hearings then? Or now? There are still plenty of radical Christian and white supremacist militias and anti-government groups actively followed by watchdogs from the FBI and the US Department of Justice. Why hasn’t Peter King used his political clout to accuse their churches and pastors of not doing enough to keep them from being radicalized? Why aren’t their relatives and community leaders being called into question as terrorist sympathizers?
Could it be…bigotry?
King seems to believe violent brown terrorists deserve harsher prosecution and condemnation than violent white ones. Homegrown white terrorism, like Christian Right militias and the IRA, are less alarming to King than terrorists from a different ethnic/religious group, even when the white terrorists use the same tactics to radicalize followers and carry out their attacks.
Clearly, Peter King doesn’t see the hypocrisy and bigotry inherent in his ostensibly anti-terrorist, Islamophobic witchhunt. But his history as a long-time supporter of ethno-political terrorism means we never should have expected Peter King to have good judgement when it comes to either bigotry or terrorism. He’s embraced them all too enthusiastically in his own life to ever hold the moral high ground.