This week Representative Peter King’s (R-NY) House Homeland Security Committee opened hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims. Amid opposition from Democratic congressmen and -women, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Islamic groups, King defended the proceedings, saying that there is “nothing radical or un-American about these hearings.” King obviously wants to avoid comparisons (too late) to Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which seriously damaged the lives and careers of left-leaning folks in entertainment and government, as well as those of (suspected) gay men and women working in the federal government. King is also trying to fend off charges that his hearings are rooted in racism and prejudice by saying that while the majority of Muslim Americans are patriotic citizens, the small number of radicals who engage in terrorist acts warrants the committee’s investigation. As Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) pointed out during the hearings, by that logic it would make just as much sense to hold hearings investigating the causes of radicalism among white folks:
When the Southern Poverty Law Center put out reports in 2009 and 2010 saying essentially the same thing, that white right-wing extremism poses an immediate threat to Americans’ safety and security, it raised conservative hackles that they were being unfairly targeted by left-wingers promoting a culture of fear by inflating the violent actions of a few to demonize a swath of people with similar political beliefs. (examples here, here, and here) Um, irony much?
Speaking of irony, these hearings come the same week that two NPR executives resigned after conservative activist James O’Keefe (of ACORN pimp fame) caught one of them on tape saying that the Republic party has been “hijacked” by “Islamophobic… xenophobic… seriously racist, racist people.” The problem with this statement? Well it’s not great from a PR standpoint, but it’s not exactly an unreasonable opinion. Looking at the groundswell of oppositional protest by people waving signs proclaiming, “I want my country back” following Obama’s election, the sheer number of Republicans who believe that the president is a Muslim, and recent opposition to the Park51 Islamic community center, it’s a pretty easy conclusion to draw. The rub lies in that funding for public broadcasting (including NPR) is under Congressional review with the current budget bill.
Of course, the House budget bill seems to have much more to do with settling old scores and pleasing the Republican party’s base (although who makes up that base these days is anyone’s guess) than with functional governance, and that goes double for Scott Walker’s Wisconsin clusterf***. I wrote here briefly about the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but Americorps has also come up on the chopping block, apparently because it makes House Republicans think of Bill Clinton and Ed Kennedy. Likewise, Rep. King’s hearings seem to be more about fear-mongering and building political capital than preventing terrorism; King’s support for the I.R.A. in the 1980s only make the proceedings look more cynical. But the fact remains that Republicans and a fair number of Democrats see this as a productive political discourse, or at least one to which they must pay lip service. It’s possible that with all the battles Republicans seem intent on fighting, the American electorate will wake up to what’s going on here and throw them out in 2012, but I’m really afraid that this is actually a dark portent of things to come.