Peter King's witch-hunt hearing

Khury Petersen-Smith explains how bigotry got turned into Congressional business.

Rep. Peter King chairs a witch-hunt hearing into so-called Muslim extremismRep. Peter King chairs a witch-hunt hearing into so-called Muslim extremism

LEFT-WING publications like SocialistWorker.org have often compared the anti-Muslim hysteria being promoted today by the U.S. government with the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s McCarthy era.

That comparison got more literal last week with a Congressional hearing called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response"--which harked back to the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and to the notorious proceedings of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The chief witch-hunter today is Republican Rep. Peter King, from Long Island in New York.

King, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, claimed the March 10 hearing wasn't motivated by anti-Muslim bias. "The majority of Muslims are outstanding Americans," King said in a February 15 interview on Good Day New York television show.

Yet King has said exactly the opposite over the past decade--and on the record. In 2005, he claimed that 80 percent of mosques in the U.S. were led by extremists. And in a 2007 interview with Politico.com, King said "Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country, too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully. We should be finding out how we can infiltrate. We should be much more aggressive with law enforcement."

King's construction of a career out of Islamophobic racism is part of a broader assault on Arabs and Muslims that came with the U.S. "war on terror" following the September 11 attacks.

In fact, King once had a friendly relationship with the Islamic Center of Long Island, a mosque in his district. That a Republican congressman would cultivate such a relationship around 2000 is unsurprising--a majority of Muslim voters supported George W. Bush in the presidential election that year.

After the September 11 attacks, though--with the federal government shredding civil liberties at home, particularly for Muslims, as it launched the war on terror abroad--King had a change of heart about his own relationships with Muslim organizations.

King claims his moment of epiphany on the threat posed by Muslim communities across the U.S. came when one person who attended the Islamic Center said that Israel, and not just al-Qaeda, should be considered in the U.S. government's investigation of the September 11 attacks.

This individual held no formal position in the Islamic Center, and the mosque regularly holds interfaith religious services--but for King, this was enough to start describing the Islamic Center--and the Muslim population in general--as fertile ground for terrorism.

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THE PURPOSE of the House hearing was clear before it took place, its outcome predetermined. King, for example, said he intended "to establish and show the American people that there is a real threat of al-Qaeda recruiting and also homegrown terrorists radicalizing the Muslim community." In other words, the hearing wasn't meant to investigate the facts, but to promote fear of Muslims.

The hearings themselves were a media circus, with Republicans grandstanding for the cameras.

One favorite target was the moderate Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, advised the Muslim community that CAIR was "hurting" them. "My concern is not limited to its disturbing origins and connections to terrorist finances," Wolf declared. "I'm equally concerned about its role attacking the reputation of any who dare to raise concerns about domestic radicalization."

Chip Cravaack, a Republican from Minnesota, added that CAIR was "basically...a terrorist organization."

What happens next is unclear--though King has hinted that he will hold more such hearings. With the Republican majority running the House, King will be able to get away with his scapegoating in congressional hearing rooms unless he faces a substantial opposition.

Unfortunately, though, anti-Muslim scapegoating isn't limited to one of the two mainstream parties--in particular, the Obama administration has done its part in the scaremongering in the past two years.

Just last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the threat of terrorism to the U.S. was the "highest since 9/11." Also in February, New York's Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the most adamant proponents of the "war on terror," secured $41.2 million for New York to "fight terrorism" as part of the budget proposal put forward by the White House.

But King's witch-hunt hasn't gone unopposed. On February 14, a spirited crowd, which included members of Christian and Jewish organizations, gathered at King's office in New York to protest the hearing. Though there was a right-wing counter-demonstration, the anti-racist protest was a much-needed show of solidarity with the Muslim community, and sent a message that King does not represent all New Yorkers in attacking Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism.

On March 6, protesters gathered in New York City's Times Square for a solidarity rally under the banner "Today, I am a Muslim, too." Among the hundreds of demonstrators were political and religious figures like Rev. Al Sharpton and Rabbi Marc Schneier, plus celebrities, including Kim Kardashian; Jim Jones and Juelz Santana of the hip-hop group The Diplomats, and music producer Russell Simmons.

Simmons, who helped spearhead the event, spoke about the need for non-Muslims to stand in solidarity against this new witch-hunt. "It's our job to stand up and protect them because if they go, we're next--blacks, Jews," he said.

Events like these show that while the attack on Arabs and Muslims continue, our side has tremendous opportunities to organize and resist.