Singling out Muslim-Americans

Neil Macdonald on the King committee hearings into the so-called radicalization of Muslim Americans.

Peter King, the Republican congressman from New York, has never once expressed any interest in investigating America's Roman Catholic community.

Never mind that some Catholics, including King himself, fervently supported (and sometimes even financed) the Irish Republican Army when it was busy setting off bombs, and sometimes killing civilians, to advance a political agenda — some people's textbook definition of terrorism.

Never mind that many Catholics, including King, are strongly anti-abortion, and some even condone the tactics of extremists, including ones who assassinate abortion providers to advance a political agenda.

Or that the Catholic Church has long been harbouring suspected felons — thousands of priests have been accused of being sexual predators — in order to protect the Church's good name.

No, King's interests lie elsewhere, which is why, this week, the Homeland Security Committee he chairs is launching a wide-reaching investigation of American Muslims.

Mark Lukens, a pastor at Bethany Congregational Church, holds a sign at a multidenominational rally in New York City on March 6, 2011, protesting against the upcoming congressional hearings on American Muslims. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Specifically: "The extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community's response."

That title itself is a thinly veiled accusation that American Muslims are breeding terrorists, and possibly sheltering them from U.S. law enforcement.

The grand marshal

King is unbothered by those who wonder how this inquiry squares with his strong support for the IRA in the past.

The Irish government itself once boycotted New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade because King was its grand marshal.

At the time, Ireland described King as an "avowed supporter" of what it considered a terrorist organization. King took exception, describing the IRA as a "legitimate force" against the British government, which he called "a murder machine."

But as the very, very tired old chestnut goes, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

King now argues that the IRA never attacked America. Which is quite true and which is why investigating the entire American Roman Catholic community would be absurd.

The same logic, though, would seem to dictate that investigating American Muslims for the predations of foreign-born al-Qaeda killers is equally irrational.

But not to King: "Homegrown radicalization is a growing threat and one we cannot ignore," he said recently.

Of course, this is a conclusion he arrived at without even the benefit of his committee's hearings. It isn't hard to imagine what he'll decide once the hearings have concluded.

Some research

Consider, for example, that so far at least, King's witness list does not contain the name of Charles Kurzman, a professor of sociology of the University of North Carolina.

Republican Peter King, head of the congressional committee on homeland security, in February 2011. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

A non-Muslim, Kurzman has produced a report for the university's Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security that actually uses statistics and facts to examine the question posed in the report's opening paragraph: "Are Muslim-Americans turning increasingly to terrorism?"

Kurzman examines things like the number of Muslim-Americans who perpetrated or were suspected of perpetrating attacks since 9/11: 24 in 2003, 16 in 2006, 16 in 2007, a spike of 47 in 2009, and a drop to 20 in 2010. A total of 161 over nearly 10 years.

The 2009 spike, he notes, was due to a group of 17 Somali-Americans who decamped to join Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, in Somalia and posed little direct threat to the U.S.

The number of Muslim-Americans he identified as having plotted against U.S. targets in 2009 was 18. Last year it was 10.

33 victims since 9/11

Some of these incidents, no doubt about it, were gravely serious threats.

Faisal Shahzad attempted to explode a car bomb in downtown Manhattan. Najubullah Zazi, an Afghani who was living in Denver, admitted plotting to bomb New York's subway system.

Others cost lives. That list includes Nidal Hasan, the U.S. army major who gunned down 13 of his comrades at Fort Hood in 2009. And the so-called "beltway sniper," the Muslim convert John Allen Muhammad, who terrorized Washington, D.C. in 2002, killing 11 innocent people.

Those two alone account for the majority of deaths in the U.S. at the hands of radicalized Muslim-Americans since 9/11.

Kurzman counts a total of 33 victims, which should probably also be set against the fact that since 9/11 there have been about 150,000 murders in this country, or about 15,000 a year.

Kurzman's report goes on to say that "it may be useful to put these figures in perspective." And it will be interesting to see whether King and his committee do the same.   In 120 post-9/11 plots identified by Kurzman — plots in which authorities learned of the plans in advance and disclosed their source of information — the single greatest source (48 cases) has been tips from the Muslim-American community itself.

In a few cases, Muslim groups have even turned in provocateurs urging jihad who turned out to be undercover police agents.

A single focus

As part of his research, Kurzman also turned up what he calls "at least 20 terrorist plots by non-Muslims in the United States" in 2010 alone — mostly by Americans who never made national headlines. Likely because they were not Muslims.

Police and federal agents lead Timothy McVeigh from the Perry, Okla., courthouse in 1995. He was executed in June 2001 for what was then the worst terror attack ever on U.S. soil. (Associated Press)

And of course the single worst act of terrorism by an American against his fellow citizens in U.S. history was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, the Christian-American extremist whose bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma city killed 168 people, and whose pals in this country's far-right "militias" are still running around in forests, training with weapons to protect themselves against their own government.

The White House has denounced King's hearings, saying this country does not practise guilt by association.

Several church groups also took to the streets recently in protest and Japanese-Americans, whose collective memory remains seared by the experience of mass internment during the Second World War, have rallied behind their Muslim co-citizens.

Some here have suggested it might actually be a good idea to investigate the radicalization of ALL Americans.

But King won't be looking into Christian militias, or rapacious gang violence by Latino and black American gangs, or any others by any group or faith that turns to violence to advance a cause.

He's laser-focused on his Muslim co-citizens. And he appears to have made up his mind.