Former IRA supporter to chair hearings on U.S. Muslims
As U.S. Rep. Peter King prepares to hold hearings Thursday on what he called "the extent of the radicalization" of American Muslims, his past as a defender of the IRA has led critics to assert he is imposing a double standard.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — In 1985, the Irish government boycotted the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City, the biggest celebration in the Irish-American calendar. The cause of its umbrage was Peter King, that year's grand marshal and someone the Irish government said was an "avowed" supporter of a terrorist organization, the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
King, then a local politician on Long Island, was one of the most zealous American defenders of the militant IRA and its campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. He described the IRA, which mastered the car bomb as an instrument of urban terror, as a "legitimate force."
And he compared Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, to George Washington.
A quarter-century later, the New York Republican is chairman of the powerful House Homeland Security Committee.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, he became an uncompromising supporter of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. And King has suggested that President Obama "use the word terrorism more often" so people understand the seriousness of his purpose.
As King prepares to hold hearings Thursday on what he called "the extent of the radicalization" of American Muslims, his past as a defender of armed struggle has led critics to assert he is imposing a double standard.
"My problem with him is the hypocrisy," said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International who was injured by an IRA bomb that struck a birthday party at a military hall in London in 1990.
"It's ironic that someone who offered such vocal support for the IRA is involved in this kind of witch hunt against Muslims in America," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But King sees no parallel between the IRA and violent Islamist extremism, which he describes as a foreign enemy or a foreign-directed enemy. His preferred comparison for the IRA is with the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela; the IRA, no less than the ANC's military wing, was fighting for community rights and freedom, he says.
"I felt that the IRA, in the context of Irish history, and Sinn Fein were a legitimate force that had to be recognized and you wouldn't have peace without them," King said. "Listen, I think I'm one of the people who brought about peace in Ireland."
His interpretation of the past draws support from former President Clinton and Tony Blair, who as British prime minister oversaw the peace process in Northern Ireland resulting in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Clinton said that King was "an anchor of America's role in the Irish peace process."
Three of King's grandparents came from Ireland, but apart from a granduncle who fought for Irish independence in the early part of the last century, he was not from a family with any commitment to revolutionary politics in Ireland. When violence first broke out in Northern Ireland, King dismissed the IRA as "a bunch of crazy people."
"The Troubles," as they were called, erupted when Roman Catholics in the late 1960s began to demand equal treatment in employment, housing and education in the majority-Protestant province of Northern Ireland. Peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed by local authorities, and the situation quickly escalated into open conflict, drawing in the British army.
The IRA was responsible for half of the more than 3,500 people killed in the ensuing 30-year conflict; of those killed by the IRA, about 600 were civilians, according to statistics compiled by researchers in Northern Ireland.
King first visited Northern Ireland in 1980 on a fact-finding mission and became a frequent visitor over the next decade.
He often stayed at the home of a senior IRA fighter who ran operations in Belfast and was a welcome guest at the Felons Club, a heavily fortified drinking establishment for former IRA prisoners in West Belfast, according to Ed Moloney, author of "The Secret History of the IRA," and a review of Irish and Irish-American press accounts of King's trips.
"If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it," King said in 1985.
King also clashed with prominent Irish-Americans who condemned IRA violence. He dismissed the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress, which included Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Edward Kennedy, as infused with a "moral arrogance and self-righteousness that would do justice to the royal family."
King recently was chosen to be chairman of the Friends of Ireland caucus he once ridiculed, the culmination of what might be called his own de-radicalization process.
King has described the fitful peace process, and his own role in it, in a barely fictionalized novel called "Deliver us from Evil," in which King is "Congressman Sean Cross," the hero who helps stop a conspiracy to derail the peace process.
In one scene, Clinton and Cross reflect on whether it would have been possible to deal with the IRA after the Sept. 11 attacks:
"Sean, looking back on it, do you think I would have been able to move on Ireland the way I did if the World Trade Center had been attacked in 1991 instead of 2001?"
"No. And I've given that a lot of thought."
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, King cooled on Adams, Sinn Fein and even Ireland because of what he perceived as a lack of support for the United States.
He hasn't been to Ireland since the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Sunday, King said Muslims in the America aren't cooperating enough with law enforcement to counter the radicalization of young followers by al-Qaida-linked groups.
"I don't believe there is sufficient cooperation" by American Muslims with law enforcement, King said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
In New York City on Sunday, about 300 protesters gathered in Times Square to speak out against King's hearing, criticizing it as xenophobic and saying that singling out Muslims, rather than extremists, is unfair.
Additional information from The Associated Press
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