A necessary distinction on the King hearings
Posted on March 9, 2011
It’s perfectly understandable that many have impulsively dismissed the prospect of Congressional hearings on Muslim radicalization as just another manifestation of Republican xenophobia, and Peter King’s dodgy past certainly doesn’t help in the credibility department. But there’s an important distinction to be made here, one that I think is easily glossed over.
If you grant that Muslim radicalization is a problem in the United States, and that Congress can play a useful role in addressing it (which I tend to doubt, but whatever), then there’s nothing inherently malevolent about holding these hearings. Theoretically, a dispassionate and measured inquiry could actually have the effect of dispelling irrational fears that many Americans seem to harbor about Muslims, like their covert imposition of shariah and other such nonsense.
But because psychopaths like Pamella Geller and Frank Gaffney tend to be the most visible critics of Muslim radicalization, and because apparent presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich are known to induce paranoia about mosques for political gain, there’s a temptation to castigate anyone who wishes to explore the threat as an Islamophobic jerk — which is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Ironically, I think the reluctance of non-insane people to confront this stuff head-on, for fear of stoking anxiety or whatever else, has the dangerous effect of ceding discursive territory to Geller and her ilk.
Whether or not it’s justified, lots of genuine folks have concerns about Muslim radicalization. So rather than reflexively scoff at the very existence of these hearings as unavoidably odious, why not make them constructive? Granted, given that Peter King is running the show, a positive outcome may well be impossible. But my question to those who become automatically indignant at the very notion of an investigation is this: In principle, do you oppose all government efforts — led by Peter King or not — to investigate and ameliorate Muslim radicalization? If so, do you also oppose investigating the activities of white supremacists, Christian dominionist militias, and other rightwing groups with violent tendencies?
Here’s the point: Whatever the shortcomings of these particular hearings, and whatever the hypocrisies in Peter King’s personal history, there is a need for responsible people to take a look at the radicalization of Muslims in America. And we do ourselves no good by discounting any effort to do so as intrinsically rooted in bigotry.