New York Rep. Peter King says his past support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA)--long listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department--doesn't pose a double-standard for the hearings he will gavel to order in the House tomorrow on the threat of Islamic radicalism.
The Republican, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has come under scrutiny for his planned hearings on Muslim terrorism in the United States, which critics have described as a witch hunt.
Some have called King's plans hypocritical, given his support for the IRA, which used violent tactics in the 1980s and 1990s to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. But in an interview with the New York Times, King referred to the IRA as "a legitimate force" in battling British repression.
When asked about the comparison between the IRA and Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, King told the Times: "I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the IRA never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States."
Many have drawn the comparison between the IRA and Muslim terrorism.
"My problem with him is the hypocrisy," Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International who was injured by an IRA bomb told The Washington Post. "If you say that terrorist violence is acceptable in one setting because you happen to agree with the cause, then you lose the authority to condemn it in another setting."
King, who is of Irish descent, has a long history of involvement with the IRA as well as a personal relationship with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. King previously played a role in promoting peace efforts in Ireland. The lawmaker has also penned several novels hinging on the behind-the-scenes effort to broker an accord with the group.
King's new push to target Muslims has drawn significant controversy. Islamic activists, civil-liberties groups and others say King's hearings allege that the panel's inquiry will legitimize discrimination against Muslim Americans.
King has in the past made many comments that have angered the Muslim community. His most recent claim was that the hearings are necessary because Muslims aren't pushing back against terrorism and that more 80 percent of mosques in America are being controlled by "radical imams"--a figure that critics contended is wildly exaggerated and not supported by any credible evidence.
King told the New York Daily News that any hatred or discrimination Muslims believe they encountered after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks was a matter of their own imagining. "I think a lot of that is a self-imposed fear they have, and that seemed to put them underground, put then in a sense of non-cooperation," King said. "I'm hoping that the hearing will bring this out, and encourage people in the Muslim community to come forward and realize that they should cooperate."
The White House has kept its distance from the hearings, which begin Thursday, but has issued statements of support for the Muslim community. Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough warned Sunday against stigmatizing Muslims. "Instead of condemning whole communities, we need to join with those communities to help them protect themselves," McDonough said, without directly mentioning the hearings.
The hearing comes at a time when an anti-Muslim rally held last month in California is making headlines. That rally included participation by two members of Congress, Republican Reps. Ed Royce and Gary Miller, as well as at least one local official.
Leading up to King's first hearing Thursday, the congressman has become the subject of personal threats, The Hill reports. As a result, police protection has been increased for Thursday's hearing.
(Photo of King: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)