Why the King Muslim Radicalization Hearings Make us Less Safe
By Justin Krebs
The horrific attacks in Norway shocked and outraged the world, and especially surprised the people of that country who hadn’t seen domestic violence at that level since World War II. We remember the steps that took place in America a decade ago: An increase in security as well as security theater; greater investment in police apparatus; a sense of fear, but also of community vigilance. How and whether these trends take root in Norway are unclear as the Norwegians themselves are wrestling with how to respond to this level of right-wing violence.
It’s America’s response, though, that concerns me now. People ask whether such a devastating act could happen here – as though Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her staff were not gunned down seven months ago. These acts do happen here – from the attacks at Virginia Tech to Fort Hood, from the assassination of abortion provider Dr. Tiller to the failed attempt to bomb Times Square. Thankfully, the last one was prevented – as was the would-be assassination of Tides Foundation director Drummond Pike by a crazed, conspiracy-minded listener of Glenn Beck, and the plot to bomb synagogues by four home-grown terrorists in New York.
There are bad actors from demented individuals to cliques warped by radical politics – who plot violence. We are fortunate at how often they are stopped, shocked and heart-broken when they succeed.
Serious questions should follow these acts. Are our gun laws too lax that allow weapons of destruction to circulate too easily? Would a stronger mental health screening system have prevented any senseless death, or would it invade individual liberty? Are these acts really “lone gunman” or do the influences that inspire them to violence – from radio hosts to sermons, from mainstream airwaves to radical communications networks – bear any responsibility?
Unfortunately, these valuable – and difficult questions – are not the ones being asked by Representative Peter King, who continues his inflammatory Congressional anti-Muslim witch hunt today.
The right wing had its fair share of inane and extreme responses to the attack in Norway. Alternet’s round-up of the worst would be hilarious if it weren’t frightening. Because so many had assumed the bombing was the work of Muslim radicals (as opposed to an anti-Muslim radical), conservative pundits had to backpedal with comments that referred to the gunman’s act as “jihad,” said “Islamic supremacists” had incited him to violence, and refused any comparison between the Muslim terrorism and Christian terrorism.
Of course, these quotes are cherry-picked to be the most absurd (although many of them were stated in “mainstream” media outlets) and the majority of conservatives – like all Americans – recognized that an act of radical right-wing Christian violence is extreme, but isn’t unique. We’ve seen it in our own country. In fact, the DHS had issued a report about the danger of right-wing militants during the Bush Administration – before the Bush Administration suppressed and challenged the findings.
But it isn’t the extreme and sensational right-wing pundits we should worry about the most, it’s our members of Congress. When Representative King (who, as is often noted, backed the IRA when they were officially considered a terrorist organization) decided that his hearings weren’t about the greatest threat to America, but the Muslim threat, he made a choice.
He could have studied home-grown terrorism and the perverting influences that turn American citizens into violent actors – but he chose to specifically focus on the threat of Islam.
Congressman King is making us less safe by not dedicating resources and his platform to addressing threats that come from non-Muslim radical, violent extremists. And let’s hope the comments of his witnesses, who make false and inflammatory statements about the nature of Islam and the extent of the threat of violence among American Muslims, don’t intentionally or unwittingly inflame that imagination of a next generation of unbalanced individuals, lone gunmen and others who might really threaten our citizens and our civil society.
Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of “538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal.”