Muslim-Bait and Switch
Peter King whipped up hysteria about American Muslims. Now he blames the media for it.
Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held his long-awaited hearing on Muslim radicalization yesterday. And, as my colleague David Weigel reported, it was a dud. Keith Ellison, one of the two Muslim members of Congress, sobbed. * Democrats tried their best to ignite outrage. But Republicans didn't play their part. Where was the inquisition? The bigotry? The explosions?
In a press conference afterward, King blamed the media for having built up "baseless" expectations of Islamophobic McCarthyism. He accused his critics of "mindless hysteria." But that isn't what happened. The press expected a broad indictment of the Muslim community because that's what King had promised. But he didn't deliver. He baited Muslims and switched.
Two days before the hearing, when King was asked about "the Muslim American community" and its cooperation with law enforcement, he asserted, "I talk to cops and counterterrorism people on the ground all the time, and they get virtually no cooperation." Then, when he was accused of assuming "that the Muslim American community … is somehow abetting and aiding and giving shelter to this process of radicalization," he flatly replied, "It is the truth."
As to the charge that they were picking on Muslims, King and his Republican colleagues had a ready answer: Targeting Muslims wasn't their idea. It was al-Qaida's.
The rap on King is that he blames all Muslims for the crimes of a few and implies that they're generally suspicious. As Lee Baca, the Los Angeles County Sherriff, put it at the hearing, the committee's exclusive focus on Muslim extremism "makes a false assumption that any particular religion or group is more prone to radicalization than others."
But King and the Republicans didn't depict Muslims as particularly prone to radicalization. They depicted Muslims as particularly targeted for radicalization.
King opened the hearing by quoting President Obama's deputy national security adviser, who said last Sunday that al-Qaida designs videos, Internet forums, and online magazines "to convince Muslim Americans to reject their country and attack their fellow Americans." He cited a poll that found "15 percent of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community al-Qaida is attempting to recruit." Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, underscored this point. "Some have attempted to mischaracterize this hearing as an attack on American Muslims," said McCaul. "It is not this committee that is doing that, but al-Qaida that is targeting and attacking our Muslim youth."
Our Muslim youth. Trust me, I never heard congressmen talk that way when I was growing up in Texas.
Throughout the hearing, Republicans and their witnesses emphasized that young Muslim men were "recruited" and "manipulated" into terrorism. They said these young men were "exploited," "lied to," and "taken advantage of." After the hearing, King said the day's testimony showed that "those who are worst victimized by the radicalization of the Muslim-American community by al-Qaida are the Muslim-Americans themselves." Even the president of the Islamic Society of North America, in criticizing King, agreed that "there's an element targeting our youth and our communities."
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.