Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Muslim? Representative Peter King Is

From the alleged threat of the Bavarian Illuminati in the 1790s to the supposed Catholic takeover of the 1850s, and from Joseph McCarthy’s antics of the Cold War era to today’s quest to capture the lurking Muslim monster, witch hunts have long dominated political discourse, their modus operandi being a potent mixture of fear and falsehood.

Representative Peter King’s (R-NY) upcoming Congressional inquiry into the “radicalization” of American Muslims is the latest example of such a chimerical chase.

King, who assumed the chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee in the recent Republican midterm sweep, alleges that Muslim leaders in the United States have been uncooperative with the federal government in terror investigations. “When I meet with law enforcement, they are constantly telling me how little cooperation they get from Muslim leaders,” King said, failing to provide details that would corroborate his claims of widespread defiance.

His allegations, which he admits are controversial, are not new. In fact, they are a revival of the same ominous warnings he delivered seven years ago, in 2004. “This is an enemy living amongst us,” King told radio talk show host Sean Hannity, with a straightforwardness that eerily recalled the days of Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting. “I would say, you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists,” he asserted, also failing to provide evidence to back up such a ludicrously large number.

Peter King did not have evidence for his outrageous claims seven years ago and he doesn’t have evidence for his “radicalization” charges today. His accusations, instead, reflect a pattern of saber rattling; Muslim communities in the United States are, for King, an easy target. If a problem existed in 2004, why has King waited seven years to bring the issue to the fore of his legislative agenda?

Tensions between the FBI and American Muslim communities have, indeed, flared recently. According to some reports, federal investigators framed U.S. Muslims for acts of terrorism, giving them fake explosives and then arresting them for attempted terror plots. Another report indicated that the federal government threatened to scuttle the green card applications of Muslim clerics in New York, California, Florida, and Massachusetts unless they agreed to spy on their overseas relatives.

But even in the midst of strained relations, Muslim communities in the United States are actively engaged in thwarting potential acts of terrorism — a fact that Peter King cannot avoid, no matter how hard he may try.

The attempted May 2010 car bombing in Times Square was, in fact, interrupted by Aliou Niasse, a Senagalese Muslim immigrant working as a street vendor in Manhattan. Five months later, the attempted D.C. subway bombing was deterred thanks to a tip from a source in the Muslim community. In December of 2009, cooperative efforts between the FBI and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) led to the arrests of five American Muslim men in Pakistan suspected of trying to join radical, anti-American forces. And most recently, the Yemen bomb plot was blocked by Jabr al-Faifi, an ex-Gitmo detainee from Saudi Arabia who provided authorities with the necessary information to stop the looming blast.

This came just as the Muslim Public Affairs Council reported that 1 in 3 attempted Al-Qaeda plots against the United States are exposed by Muslim Americans.

Of course, for Peter King, the “Muslimness” of terrorists is more authentic than the “Muslimness” of the ordinary faithful who denounce — and report — potentially violent acts; to him, the “real” Muslims are the violent, scary ones, not the peaceful souls whose efforts to aide the government in combating terrorism undermine every thread of his argument.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Nathan Lean

Nathan Lean is the Research Director at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. His three books include, most recently, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto 2012). Nathan's writing has been featured in the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Salon, The New Republic, and others. His newest book, The Changing Middle East, will be released by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015.

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