With Terrorism Panel, King Needs to Put Safety First


Each month, Long Island Wins Director Maryann Sinclair Slutsky publishes a column in the Anton Community Newspapers. Here’s the February column:

This ought to be a point of pride for us: Hometown boy makes good.

With the new Congress, Long Island Congressman Peter King became the chair of the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives.

For Republican leaders in Congress, King must seem like the natural choice for the important position. He’s worked long and hard on the issue, sometimes letting an honest examination of the facts take him where other politicians refused to go.

One of his most laudable moments came after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, an attack that was perpetrated by right-wing militia sympathizers.

King took a brave stand against many in his own party by calling for the investigation of militia groups and those tied to them. He was one of the people who helped damped extremism in America, pulling us back from the brink in the wake of a national tragedy.

Unfortunately, King isn’t so clear-eyed these days.

As one of his first projects as the head of the Homeland Security committee, he plans to hold a series of hearings on the radicalization of Muslims in the US, calling on a range of spokespeople – Muslim and otherwise – to testify before Congress about Islamic fundamentalism and how it might lead to violence.

Rooting out extremism is absolutely necessary. No one wants to see another terrorist attack on US soil.

But we know that our current hatreds are finding their most violent and extreme expressions in a wide range of forms, as we saw with the senseless shooting in Arizona last month, and in the 2008 killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

The upcoming hearings on domestic terrorism should look into all types of threats, not only those posed by groups that are deemed politically convenient.

However, King doesn’t view these threats as serious: He only wants his investigation to focus on Muslims. As a result, the congressman has been criticized by a wide range of people of good will, from the Muslim community itself to law enforcement officials concerned with alienating potential crime-fighting allies.

Simply put, King’s hearings will make us less safe. And they’ll attack a stereotyped minority in service of a political cause.

Long Island Muslim leaders like Nayyar Imam, the president of the Selden-based Long Island Muslim Alliance are particularly worried about King’s approach.

“These are just politicians trying to play some games,” Imam told me recently. “Look at the McCarthy hearings, did anything come out of that?”

A safer homeland requires good intelligence, sound research, and trust between communities and law enforcement. And if these hearings go forward, all of those values should be prioritized, not set aside.

We’ve seen that King has better angels in his nature. If he starts listening to them again, he might prevent the next tragedy.

Feature Image: Peter King with General David Patraeus at a January 2010 briefing via Flickr.