Congressman Peter King's strange journey from Irish radical to Muslim inquisitor -- I no longer recognize the politician I have known for 25 years
Posted on Monday, March 07, 2011 at 06:30 PM
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I've known Peter King longer than I know any other politician in America.
We have dined out together, traveled to Ireland together and been friends for close to a quarter century.
I knew him first as the firebrand comptroller of Nassau County, Long Island, utterly unafraid to speak out on behalf of the Republican movement in Northern Ireland at a time when they were about as popular as Genghis Khan.
It took bravery to do that, and Pete was certainly brave.
Like many Irish Americans, he saw the hypocrisy of the American position, seeing no evil on one side in the North and all on the other.
He was the highest ranking elected official in the U.S. to speak out.
As the peace process began and Sinn Fein came in from the cold Pete, by now a congressman, continued to play a very large role.
Alone among American politicians, he had the ear and confidence of Sinn Fein because of his past association with them. Having a trusted political figure in Washington was very important for them.
They felt they could trust his advice on the American role in the peace process, and that he would not abuse the trust as he was no Johnny Come Lately.
The success of the peace process was a huge boost for King, who was first and was right on the issue of keen concern to millions of Irish Americans.
He had put himself out on a limb, yet refused to back off because what he saw was right.
It had to hurt because of the odium it attracted from "respectable" circles.
There was the time that President Reagan was coming to Long Island and King, an elected official, was essentially branded a terrorist and ordered to come nowhere near him.
Such incidents only enhanced his stature with Irish American activists, however, and it was no surprise when King was elected the grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City in 1985.
He had the last laugh with the success of the peace process, and he was loyal to those who stood by him.
When President Clinton was threatened by impeachment in 1998 King was one of five House Republicans who refused to vote in favor.
King said it was because of Clinton's stance on the Gerry Adams visa and his support for the peace process.
Something changed for Peter King soon after, and it was undoubtedly 9/11.
He was always an uncomfortable fit as a revolutionary supporter, but 9/11 seemed to trigger some latent streak in him that made him rethink his entire philosophy.
He drifted away from the Irish community, especially over the issue of immigration which is a major concern with so many Irish undocumented.
King opposed every attempt to remedy their situation, despite defending many Irish men over the years that the U.S. government wanted deported.
His stance was difficult to understand, but it has become clear since he has resumed his position as head of the Homeland Security Committee in the House.
He has now become the biggest hardliner in Congress against Muslim Americans and alleges that some have ties to Al Qaeda.
His hearings this week probing Muslim Americans have drawn great controversy.
On Sunday, in Times Square, 500 protesters marched against them.
The New York Times accused him in Tuesday's newspaper of leading a 'show trial' writing ".. he is focusing on one group that appears to have obsessed him since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, resulting in slanders and misstatements that might have earned him a rebuke from his colleagues had they been about any other group. "
"The Washington Post" among others highlighted King's strange dichotomy between his past support for the political wing of the IRA, and his obsession with Muslims and radicals.
His efforts come at a time when, ironically, there are signs that Muslims are beginning their own journey towards a political enlightenment similar to America in 1776 and France in 1789, and indeed Northern Ireland in the 1990s.
The scenes from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya all show Muslims embracing the concept of democracy that seemed impossible just a few months ago.
That is the greatest threat of all to Al Qaeda -- not a hearing in Washington seeking Muslim radicals under the bed.
Strangely, given Sinn Fein's journey towards their own political awakening, King is uniquely poised to understand that shift in the Arab world.
Alas, he finds himself on the bully pulpit espousing a very different take on Muslim Americans.
It is a very strange situation for a great advocate of democracy in Ireland.
I'm glad to still call him friend, but hope he sees sense one of these days. Demonizing a group of people never works. It only leads to further fear, hate and suspicion.
I think given the reaction to his hearings that King is able to see that clearly now.
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