You are hereMiami Herald: Rep. Peter King: Terrorism hawk or witch hunter?

Miami Herald: Rep. Peter King: Terrorism hawk or witch hunter?


March 9, 2011- Extraordinary public scrutiny will focus Thursday not only on the topic of a widely publicized House of Representatives committee hearing — the radicalization of American Muslims — but also on the man who'll wield the gavel.

Some elected officials, civil liberties groups and American Muslim organizations fear that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will preside over an inflammatory inquiry akin to former Sen. Joseph McCarthy's infamous 1950s "witch hunt" investigations into communist anti-American activities.

Others, however, including top officials of the Obama administration, say there's a real threat to U.S. security from domestic terrorists, in particular from Muslims attracted to jihad, and that investigating that threat is a legitimate task for Congress.

What happens in King's hearing, the first in a series, and its impact on the American people will depend largely upon how King — a blunt, media-savvy, 10-term conservative Republican — handles it.

"It's a very touchy subject because of the legacy of 9-11 and because of efforts of President Bush and President Obama to play down the antagonism or suspicions of many Americans towards Muslims," said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political science professor. "How this plays out, of course, hinges upon how Mr. King conducts the hearings. Bottom line, this has the potential to exacerbate those feelings rather than relieve them."

King's critics don't view him as an honest broker. They point to some of his assertions after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, such as when he said that Islamic fundamentalists controlled 85 percent of the mosques in America.

They also question his commitment to combating terrorism, citing his fervent support in the 1980s and 1990s for the Irish Republican Army, whose military wing engaged in terrorist bombings against the British.

"He has shown a remarkable lack of sophistication and nuance on this issue," said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism expert for Amnesty International and a former British intelligence officer. "That's clearly the approach he's taking at the Muslim community; he's tarring people with a broad brush."

King's response to his critics: So what? The hearing isn't about him. It's about "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and the Community's Response," he said, citing the title of his inquiry

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