Rep. Peter King’s decision to hold a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security on “radicalization in the American Muslim community” embraces the grand political tradition of demonizing a minority community in times of perceived national crisis for apparent personal advantage.
In 1919 an anarchist letter-bombing campaign prompted the Attorney General and aspirant President candidate Alexander Palmer to unleash a series of raids on predominantly Russian immigrant and labor groups that flouted due process and often resulted in what even J. Edgar Hoover admitted were “clear cases of brutality.” More than 500 Eastern European immigrants were summarily deported.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the internment of 110,000 American citizens of Japanese origin in complete disregard for their constitutional protections. Many white Californians benefited materially as a result, especially in the farming community. FDR’s Assistant Secretary of War, John Jay McCloy, famously remarked at the time: “If it is a question of safety of the country, [or] the Constitution of the United States, why the Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.”
Far from representing a threat to national security, Japanese Americans volunteered in droves to serve in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which by the end of the war had become the most decorated unit in the US Armed Forces and boasted 21 Medal of Honor recipients.
It is small wonder then that Rep. Michael Honda, himself a former Japanese-American internee, this week denounced King’s hearings as something “sinister,” designed “to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia.” It is always a wise policy to listen to the voice of experience.
Senator Joseph McCarthy rose to prominence in 1950 by claiming that he had obtained a list of communists and spies working in the State Department. It was a claim that McCarthy never substantiated but by his fall from grace in 1954 his Permanent House Committee on Investigations had destroyed countless careers and given a veneer of respectability to latent establishment anti-Semitism.
McCarthy’s State Department canard finds an eerie echo in Rep. King’s similarly baseless 2004 claim, made on Sean Hannity’s radio show, that Islamic extremists controlled 80-85% of the mosques in the United States.
In actual fact, the evidence simply does not bear out such wild claims. A recent study published by The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University found that American Muslims had in fact provided crucial tips to law enforcement personnel in 48 of the 120 cases in which Muslims perpetrators are suspected of plotting attacks on the United States since 9/11.
However, there are real world consequences when politicians go on the airwaves playing shamelessly to mindless prejudice. In August last year, as the rhetoric escalated about the propriety of constructing a Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York cabbie Ahmed Sharif was stabbed in the throat by a passenger who confirmed his victim was Muslim before launching his attack.
Recovering after the attack, Sharif issued a heartbreaking statement through the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, saying: “I have been here more than 25 years, I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before.”
We are all hyphenated Americans of one sort or another. Peter King knows this better then most. He has shown great attachment to his ancestral home of Ireland, an attachment that led him into choppy waters as a vocal supporter of the Provisional IRA.
Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of their cause, the Provisional IRA was a violent armed group which received arms from Colonel Gaddafi, killed around 1,500 people over a thirty year period, and on occasion did not shy away from planting bombs aimed at soft civilian targets — including myself — in places such as shops, railway stations, bars and fast food restaurants.
To this day, Peter King continues to describe the IRA as “a legitimate force” fighting British repression, which rather begs the question of how he views Hamas or Fatah operations in Gaza and the West Bank, or for that matter whether he viewed insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq in a similar light. But I digress.
It is of course perfectly possible for hyphenated Americans to follow political upheavals and struggles in the old country, and experience vicariously all the passions and emotions that such events inspire, without acting in any way to undermine the security of their new home.
King says that his support for an organization that battled one of America’s closest allies, a strategic partner whose troops are fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan today, does not call his patriotism into question: “My loyalty is to the United States.”
I don’t doubt it, but he should extend the same courtesy to Muslim Americans as well.