New York Congressman Peter King’s so-called homeland security hearing on Muslim radicalization should surprise no one. We’ve been at war with Islam abroad for 10 years. It’s amazing it’s taken this long for the xenophobia and hate-mongering to be elevated to heroic status on Capitol Hill, where even the fringe the notion of Barack Obama as a Muslim fifth columnist still has currency. It’s all part of a long American tradition, rich in blood and bile.
This is a country partly built on the genocidal eradication of the Indian, on the enslavement of blacks for 300 years and the terrorizing and demonizing of blacks for another hundred. At the turn of the last century it was the “Yellow Peril” that led Congress to ban Asian immigration. In the 1920s, at a time when Jews were openly barred from colleges, clubs, restaurants and neighborhoods, Henry Ford was devoting page after page of his Michigan newspaper to battling what he perceived as the threat of Jewish radicalization in America, and dreaming of the day when the country would be cleansed of them. That was just warm-up for the mass hysteria of the 1950s when it was feared that Soviet communists, who had trouble keeping a light bulb functioning properly in Russia, would overrun the United States thanks to a few well-placed “infiltrators.” The Soviet threat has become the Muslim threat.
And to keep the bigots along the Mexican border happy, there’s always the “Brown Peril” to worry about, and goon brigades such as the “Minutemen Project” to meet brown skins with brown shirts. So Peter King, if anything, is a cliché, an elected, and therefore presumably more respectable reflection of our national prejudices. But the difference between him and, say, that radical nut Terry Jones, the Gainesville preacher who warms his religious bigotry to the fire of burning Korans, is just a different address.
If there is a “radicalization” problem in the United States, Muslims have better take a number. They’re vastly outnumbered. The odd attack with a Muslim at the trigger can’t be denied. We are a diverse country. But bullet for bullet, it’s safe to say that Muslims are more law-abiding than their more Christian brothers, at least stat wise.
“In an 11-day period this January,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, “a neo-Nazi was arrested headed for the Arizona border with a dozen homemade grenades; a terrorist bomb attack on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash., was averted after police dismantled a sophisticated anti-personnel weapon; and a man who officials said had a long history of anti-government activities was arrested outside a packed mosque in Dearborn, Mich., and charged with possessing explosives with unlawful intent.” The same Dearborn where Henry Ford once spewed his anti-Semitism. “That’s in addition, the same month, to the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, an attack that left six dead and may have had a political dimension.”
Speaking of firebombing mosques, you may remember—or prefer not to remember—that the largest mosque in our own backyard, the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, was the target of a firebombing last year, while 60 worshipers were inside. And that it took place during the orchestrated vilification of a prominent member of the Muslim community, Pervez Ahmed, whose nomination to the city’s human rights commission was almost derailed by the hate-mongering of Act for America!, the organization led by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian Lebanese turned American Islamophobe, and one of Peter King’s advisers.
Just last month in St. Petersburg, Bradley Strott, a 52-year-old whose Christian credentials must surely be impeccable, was arguing religion with another man when, finding out that that man was a Muslim, grabbed him by the shirt and stabbed him in the neck. Naturally, the Florida Legislature never missing an opportunity to fuel intolerance where it could foster it, is joining the Oklahoma bandwagon against Sharia law, which has about as much influence in Florida as the ACLU does in Saudi Arabia. It’s not about sense. It’s about hate.
That, too, should not surprise you. Florida has the distinction of being the forwarding address to 49 hate groups, third-most after California and Texas. These include neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalists, black separatists, a chapter of the Jewish Defense League and neo-Confederates, though the list has yet to be updated to include the likes of Muslim-bashing Terry Jones.
Let’s not be disproportionate about hate’s constituency, either. We may have a long tradition of bigotry. We also have an equally long tradition of justice and fairness and clear-eyed denunciations of the worst in human impulses. Peter King is merely a reminder that radicals don’t always wear white hoods and burn crosses in grassy yards. They also wear ties, pander to the media and hold congressional hearings.