The Washington Post ran a cover story in Saturday's issue about New York Republican congressman Peter King, the chair of the House Homeland Security committee. King, who has started a series of hearings investigating homegrown terrorism and the federal government's response to it, has been accused of holding "witch trials." (The truth, however, is much less salacious; King's hearings so far have focused on efficacy in government.) King has said he's continuing with the hearings, even as some protest in New York this past weekend.
But the Post reminds readers of the Irish-American King's past support of the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the height of the so-called "Troubles" in Northern Ireland:
In 1985, the Irish government boycotted the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City, the biggest celebration in the Irish-American calendar. The cause of its umbrage was Peter King, that year's grand marshal and someone the Irish government said was an "avowed" supporter of a terrorist organization, the Irish Republican Army.
King, then a local politician on Long Island, was one of the most zealous American defenders of the militant IRA and its campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. He argued that IRA violence was an inevitable response to British repression and that the organization had to be understood in the context of a centuries-long struggle for independence.
"The British government is a murder machine," King said. He described the IRA, which mastered the car bomb as an instrument of urban terror, as a "legitimate force." And he compared Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, to George Washington.
These quotes from the past aren't pretty, given the bloodiness wrought by both Catholic republican and Protestant unionist radicals in Northern Ireland. And the implication, of course, is that King's toughness on Islamic terrorism since 9/11 is hypocritical. In fact, the Post quotes officials from Amnesty International and the Council on American-Islamic Relations that explicitly (and expectedly) mentions the "hypocrisy" and "irony" in King's statements from 20 years ago.
Concern about King's past support for the IRA is warranted. The IRA terrorized the British Army and the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland alike. Although King doesn't support the IRA now, that support represents a significant aspect of his early political career. That fact is reprehensible.
But what if King's position today is the result of something much simpler: that 9/11 changed his perception of terrorism, especially as a New York congressman. It's difficult to see how King's complicated history with the IRA delegitimizes his hearings about homegrown Islamic terrorism. More to the point, Major Nidal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallub, and Faisal Shahzad were all radicalized Muslims and citizens or residents of the United States at some point. Is our government doing everything it can to find and prevent domestic terrorism operations? Whether or not King should have cozied up to the IRA before the Good Friday Agreement is a separate question. And in 2011, the first question is the more critical.
Here's what King had to say yesterday about this Thursday's full committee hearing:
We will examine al Qaeda’s latest and dangerous tactic of radicalizing members of the American Muslim community and recruiting them to engage in jihadist attacks against innocent Americans. We will also examine the American Muslim community’s response to the growing threat....
At the hearing, we will hear from American Muslims, including those with first-hand, devastating experience with the effects of al Qaeda’s radicalization efforts. This life-and-death issue is too important to ignore in the name of political correctness.