Exorcism of my inner Peter King
By: Brendan Patrick Keane | Published Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 2:08 PM | Updated Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 2:08 PM
Peter King helped me see an ugly strain in my identity that can seem ok in some parts of Long Island, but is still wrong there and everywhere else that claims to be American.
I came of age in Queens at a time when King was the only representative in US Congress defending the IRA. As then, his constituents are mostly white working class people who would be deeply affected by 9/11 as victims and heroes and as sensitive New Yorkers who just want to maintain the flame of respect for the people of that day.
Last year I made a big mess of mistakes trying to show support for 9/11 families and workers by chiming in on the Muslim center, the 9/11 Workers Bill and other issues in which Peter King was staking out various audacious claims about dangers posed by Muslims. Full circle, I was repeating a kind of mistake I had also once made in high school when Peter King first got his Congressional seat. I let Peter King's title back then fool me into thinking that it's ok to support the IRA. And more recently, I let him let me think it's ok to express American patriotism in the form of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
In the following the example of Peter King, if even on only a few issues as I have, I had allowed myself to become that famous character from Ulysses, Cyclops the Citizen, abandoning any lessons Joyce or Bloom teach, really because I let bad reasoning lead me to bad conclusions. King the Congressman is desperate to embody a reincarnated Irish American Catholic McCarthy who's come back from the dead to bring out the worst traits in my demographic. And there I was listening to his reasoning sympathetically, writing up support at times, scurrying along side him--even though it didn't sit right in my gut. Anyone who has had to defend the IRA knows that feeling.
In high school, Peter King was the Congressional backup I used to make outlandishly crass arguments on behalf of a tiny secret group---the IRA--that had hijacked Irish identity with its heinous bombing and child murder headlines, and had ignorantly won my see no evil allegiance.
As people fled Irish culture in revulsion and collective guilt for anything the IRA represented, I too should have fled Cyclopean patriots like Peter King.
Instead he gave me permission to be wrong-headed about a terrorist organization that had committed so many horrendous acts of sadism that no American can allow himself to support them or follow any thought leader, even a Congressman, who would radicalize them into justifying such an irresponsibly murderous and civilan-slaughtering organization such as the IRA in any way.
I renounce any romance I have ever nurtured for the IRA. By the logic of Peter King, he and I should be called before Congress for public ridicule, along with everyone we know in the manner of his recent media stunt that could just as easily have been called Congressional Hearing on Radicalization of Irish Americans.
More shamefully, King influenced me again, late last year, when I was spurred by nostalgia, no doubt, to defend him against Congressman Anthony Weiner. Representative Weiner's outrage, made famous in a YouTube video, did more to bolster public attention than I had appreciated, and I absurdly accused him of being distracting, when in fact he was gathering the people's attention to see Republican tricks to Kill the 9/11 Bill, a reaction that swelled and then that made it impossible for anything but success in the end.
Enchanted perhaps by our shared misinterpretation of Anthony Weiner's House floor scolding when the bill was first defeated by Republicans, I allowed myself later to see another of King's views sympathetically, though it required me to suspecnd my basic understanding of American constitutional rights. That King could have made Cordoba House, the planned center in Manhattan for Muslims, something worthy of the demonization it got in America--let alone New York, where tolerance is a priori numero uno--is inexplicable except to say that our times are becoming increasingly less tolerant because of people like King.
I took a leave-of-absence from my senses and started writing essays that by equivocation and parsing got very nit-picky on Muslims and their rights to develop American property as though somehow Peter King gave me permission to vet the US government's vetting process. I look back now and would laugh at my outrageous presumption, baptized by Peter King, except that that image of myself feels much too ugly for easy forgiveness.
I was most ugly in my writing when I allowed my sympathies to align with Peter King's demagoguery. Irish Americans like me from working class Queens might want to consider how stupid we look when we fall sp naturally, lock step behind this Coughlin-McCarthy-King-style demonize-them patriot game stuff. We came here unwelcome just like Muslims come today, and it does not go unnoticed that we are somehow the quickest to call up a witch trial. Fox station with Congressman King is like a chorus of Irish American ignorance enchanting those among us who want to do right by the flag and the memories it holds and so mistakenly buy into everything-but-outright-hateful Muslims talk, like it's the new Black in coy racist rhetoric. Doing this for America only makes it that much worse.
Aping ignorant aphorisms in the manner of Cyclopean zombies we seem to feel its our duty to let King tell us Muslims are radicals and then we go on TV and the radio and freely talk like idiots about dangerous strangers we wildly suspect live amongst us.
Americans don't do that to Americans, but New Yorkers especially not, unless you're just stupid. Americans don't target an ethnic or religious group for suspicion. They don't do that unless they expect and want to become a shameful footnote from history. They don't unless they want to become the example of that time in American life when we went Muslim-hunting and succeeded for a time to bring intolerance back in vogue in America.
Thankfully there are plenty of educated Irish Americans from Queens that get the Civil Rights legacy the Kennedys leave us, and appreciate the quality of multicultural New York that lets us never treat people like King is treating Muslims. I've gotten back to that by rejecting King.
Peter King's accusation hearings gratuitously and unsubstantitively tarnish the entire Muslic community with the dangerous stigma of radicalization.
Peter King is an out-and-out radical. The IRA brought the Irish cause to Libya, and made all sorts of deals with Qaddafi in shared animosity to the British people that no American can stand for, because we share an unbreakable affinity with Britons ever since the World Wars. Mystery IRA men did these things with no mandate from the Irish and at great cost to Irish identity.
The IRA does no good for Irish identity, and is baggage the Irish have had to disgracefully explain, as I'm sure Muslims must their extremists. Just because a renegade band of cave-dwellers succeed in taking over the group's name with bombs and murder-made sensation, doesn't mean it becomes ok then to drown out the vast majority voice of normal people that condemn this undemocratic fundamentalist extremism and violence. And it's certainly not ok to drag these good people to the highest halls of power and accuse them of maybe being a radical, while holding up the keys of Guantanamo Bay and giving them a scarey little jangle.
Everyday Muslims are in a similar predicament to Irish people, a fact that Peter King could know well, living it himself as he does, or once did when his IRA rhetoric influenced my radical mistake to talk in the radical manner the Congressman had made ok.
Instead of seeing the blaring hypocrisy, King creates a dangerous American patriotism that cannot exist without fictitiously creating an impossibly equal, dangerous and ubiquitous enemy that needs be sniffed out. Are you one? If you're Irish, King's Congressional Hearing has reason to suspect you, me and his own self of radical connections to Libya by way of King's complex of base cover reasoning.
King is enthusiastic to offer up Muslims to prove his own patriotism, but it masks his long-standing support for a terrorist group, aligned to Qaddafi and a whole sewer of stuff that shames all Irish, except King apparently.
Irish Americans have an historical responsibility as the Kennedy brothers showed in the Civil Rights era. We like to reaffirm our love of the United States, but we have to recognize our McCarthyite tendencies that sometimes come out in times of simple patriotism. Instead we have to get back to our nobler roots of standing up for tolerance by rejecting bull pulpit demagoguery and show trials that make American communities worry if they will ever be accepted as all others expect to be.
King unfathomably wants to be the McCarthy of our generation. He can only do that if we let him.