One person’s terrorist may be another person’s freedom fighter.
Surely, Peter King knows that. The Long Island congressman essentially uses that argument as a defense when confronted by his own past support of the Irish Republican Army as it was bombing and terrorizing in the name of Irish freedom. His justification — “the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States” — is entirely disingenuous. The IRA claimed responsibility in 1984 for nearly assassinating the democratically elected prime minister of Britain, America’s closest ally. If that isn’t an attack on American values, what is?
King should know that the lines between believing in a legitimate nationalist cause and supporting terrorism can become blurry for some, as they did for those who aided the African National Congress’s violent attempts to end apartheid, and the Irgun’s bloody campaign to force Britain out of Palestine. And, it seems, as they do for a small minority of Muslims in the U.S.
An extensive 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that while 80% of all American Muslims reject the notion that suicide bombings can be justified to defend Islam, about one-quarter of those aged 18 to 30 believe to some extent that they can be justified. So the threat is real, and the prospect that recruitment of domestic jihadists will grow is bolstered by several well-known terrorist attacks or near-misses.
What isn’t at all clear is whether the kind of congressional hearings that King is chairing on domestic Islamic radicalization will help illuminate this trend to better combat it, or whether the hearings will further demonize and alienate the vast majority of American Muslims who want nothing to do with those who commit violence in the name of their religion.
We hope for the first outcome, and fear the latter.
As a religious and ethnic minority, Jews have a special stake in ensuring that these hearings do not provide a platform to those who would challenge an American’s loyalty because of where he prays or how she connects to causes overseas. King’s own statements are confusing enough to warrant deep concern. While he has repeatedly stated what we know to be true — that the vast majority of Muslims here are loyal and peaceful — he also has asserted, incorrectly, that most mosques in America are run by extremists and, again incorrectly, that Muslims here don’t generally cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
His public prejudices imply another, dangerous sort of “disloyalty” that any religious minority — especially Jews, with an abiding interest in the State of Israel — can only greet with dismay. Generations of Americans have had to prove their fealty and overcome the nasty stereotype that they care more about the pope in Rome or the prime minister in Israel, or perhaps the republican cause in Ireland, than they do about this country and its values. To subject Muslims to this prejudice now is to repeat sins of the past better consigned to history than to congressional hearings.
One can acknowledge the pull of religious and nationalist causes without using it as an excuse to support terrorism. Of all people, Peter King should recognize that, shouldn’t he?