King Fuels the Debate Over Terrorism

Mar 7, 2011 Issues: Domestic Radicalization / Radicalization Hearings

By ANDREW GROSSMAN
Wall Street Journal
March 7, 2011

The debate over the role of Muslims in America and how to deal with the threat of homegrown terrorism is intensifying, and Long Island Rep. Peter King is in the middle of it.

Mr. King wasn't in Times Square Sunday, but his name was on the lips of dueling groups of protesters brought to Midtown's rain-soaked streets by his plans to hold a series of hearings on what the congressman calls a radicalization of some American Muslims.

The first of those hearings before Mr. King's Committee on Homeland Security is scheduled to begin Thursday. They'll continue for the next year and a half, he said. Opponents of the hearings have argued that they unfairly single out American Muslims as a source of domestic terrorism while ignoring other threats.

Mr. King's hearings mark the second time in recent months that he has been at odds with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg over Islam. Mr. Bloomberg has said he doesn't think the congressional hearings are necessary. The pair also strongly disagreed on plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center side. Mr. Bloomberg supported the center; Mr. King did not.

Mr. King serves as a valuable link to the Republican majority in the House of Representatives for heavily Democratic New York City. Only one of city's representatives in Congress—freshman Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm—is a Republican.

That has left Mr. King, who is chairman of the homeland security committee, as an important ally for Mr. Bloomberg on issues like getting federal money to fund health care for sick workers who toiled at Ground Zero as well as winning more money to fortify the city against terrorism.

That relationship doesn't appear strained by their tangles over Islam. As the fight over the Islamic center faded away last fall, the mayor gave Mr. King's campaign a $2,400 donation. On Saturday, they marched together in a St. Patrick's Day parade in the Rockaways—at Mr. Bloomberg's invitation. Later, they dined together at Blue Fin in Times Square, Mr. King said. He said his planned hearings didn't come up, but homeland-security funding for New York did. Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor, declined to comment on the content of their conversation.

"The reason that the Mayor and Chairman King work so well together is that they don't let the issues on which they differ, like this one, take away from the ones they on which they work closely together—like trying to base Homeland Security funding on threat and not politics," Mr. Loeser said in an email.

A few blocks south of where the mayor and the congressman ate Saturday night, a large crowd gathered Sunday to hear speakers condemn Mr. King and his plans.

The rally's slogan: "Today, I am a Muslim, Too." Among a group of speakers that included rabbis and Episcopalian priests was Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who until recently headed the group trying to build the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan.

"Let us send a message to Congressman Peter King, that the true enemy is extremism, and supporters of extremism and radical ideology and not Islam and Muslims," Mr. Rauf said.

A much smaller group gathered south of Times Square to voice support for Mr. King's hearings. There, too, were veterans of the fight over the proposed Islamic center. Many wore T-shirts showing opposition to the project. They urged Mr. King to press ahead.

One, Beth Gilinsky, accused Mr. Rauf of "trying to create a phony, trumped up civil-rights movement" based on the idea—which she said was false—that Muslims are persecuted in the U.S.

Mr. King said the opposition to his plans was far from his mind Sunday afternoon. He reiterated a point he has made repeatedly over the past few months: He thinks most American Muslims are peaceful, loyal and don't pose a threat. But he's troubled by a small minority who might, and he sees it as his duty to investigate them.

"I really have no response," he said of the rallies. "This issue is too important to be decided by a bunch of people shouting in the rain in Times Square."