Our nation’s history is marked by tragic periods when certain groups deemed different have faced a calculated attempt to demonize them for the express purpose of denying their claim to American citizenship. The history of the genocide of Americans Indians, the enslavement of Africans, the violent oppression of African-Americans and the rampant discrimination toward a host of immigrant groups stands out as the character flaw of so-called American exceptionalism. Sadly, we are now in the throes of another such period as Muslims have become the latest group targeted.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is leading hearings this week to examine what he deems the radicalization of Muslims in the United States. His justification is his wild claim that 80% of mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams. King’s rants are reminiscent of the character Senator John Iselin, in the cinema classic “The Manchurian Candidate,” who keeps changing the number of “card-carrying” communist sympathizers he claims work in the Department of Defense. It is a classic tactic of demagogues - to push lies as truth and play upon the irrational fears of a frightened, and frankly ignorant, public. The danger of course is that such lies serve to breed mistrust and encourage those less stable to commit violent acts in the name of some warped sense of patriotism.
Some conservatives have played the “Muslim card” since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. To his credit, President George W. Bush refused to lend credence to the vitriol against Muslims and made it clear that America was not at war with Islam. It seems some Republicans did not get the memo, or if they did, chose to ignore the truth for the sole purpose of scoring political points among a narrow constituency. King is borrowing tactics of the discredited McCarthy era and attempting to hide his hatred toward Muslims under the cover of “national security.” His actions demonstrate why elections have consequences, as his quackery was relatively harmless when the Republicans were in the minority and he was not in the chairperson’s seat.
With strong evidence that domestic terrorism is on the rise, mainly in the form of the resurgence of white supremacist groups, Rep. King chooses instead to make Muslims the new bogeymen and by doing so threatens the security of not only American Muslims but sends the wrong message to the international Islamic community. Many Americans conveniently forget that prior to 9/11 the deadliest terrorist attack on our nation’s soil was the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City - by an American. The primary culprit, Timothy McVeigh, was no ordinary American. He was a former soldier who sympathized with right-wing militias that espoused white supremacy and used Christianity as the basis of their hate. These groups still operate, with free access to deadly firearms and weaponry due to our lax gun control laws, and make known their intention to commit murder on websites on which they proudly spew their hatred of Blacks, Jews, gays and immigrants. Still, neither Rep. King, nor his fellow conservative witch hunters raise concern about the radicalization of Christianity.
The real threat to Rep. King and many of his conservative colleagues is the transition of the complexion and cultural identification of America in the 21st century. King is no patriot. He is a demagogue, a pretend patriot whose only interest is in preserving an America in which people of color, immigrants and practitioners of certain faiths remain subservient to his warped definition of citizenship. At best he is misguided and misinformed, and at worse he is purposely deceitful and embracing of the role of false prophet. Rep. King has already proven that he in unworthy to occupy such a powerful position in Congress.
The real danger is silence is complicity. Americans who refuse to succumb to fear and hate must vigorously object to King’s attempt to further divide our nation by making Muslims scapegoats. The congressman’s disingenuous claims will make this nation less safe, not more so. While we look for radical Muslims hiding in mosques, in communities and in neighborhoods, homegrown hate will flourish and we will fall prey to an attack from one of our own who does not subscribe to the true tenets of the Qur’an nor professes faith in Islam.