The pounding Rep. Peter King is taking from the mainstream media over his hearings about Islamic extremism hasn’t altered his determination to pursue the subject. But according to Politico, it is making House Speaker John Boehner slightly uncomfortable. The website reports today that Boehner responded to queries about the hearings by simply saying “Chairman King is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” which it interprets as “not exactly a ringing endorsement.”
Politico may be reaching with this story alleging that Republicans are divided on the issue since, as its own story notes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is an enthusiastic backer of King’s initiative. But Boehner’s noncommittal response may well indicate that some GOP leaders are aware of the potential for disaster that the hearings represent. While King is certainly right to view the growing danger of Muslim extremism as an appropriate topic for the Homeland Security Committee, the outcome of this battle may hinge more on who controls the narrative about the investigation rather than its findings about support for terrorism among Islamists.
Stories about these hearings have generally been told from the perspective of Muslim groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other King critics. Rather than taking a hard look at the way foreign-funded extremists have turned some mosques into hotbeds for Islamism and the way that CAIR and similar groups have run interference for these radicals, the frame of reference about King has been the charge that he is engaging in a McCarthy-like congressional fishing expedition. While it will be possible for King to recover from these charges with well-run informative hearings that avoid the histrionics that might turn off the public, the ability of his opponents to spin the event as a witch hunt no matter what anyone actually says or does should not be underestimated.
What King is running into is the same media buzz saw that faced critics of the plans to create an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero in New York last summer. In that controversy, as I wrote in COMMENTARY last October, the ability of supporters of the project to smear anyone who questioned the propriety of the plan as bigots was the key to understanding the way the debate played out. The successful efforts of groups like CAIR to convince the mainstream media that American Muslims were facing an unprecedented wave of prejudice reduced the discussion to one of whether Americans were in favor of discrimination against adherents of Islam. The fact that this premise was utterly false made no difference to the way the media covered the story, since they had already swallowed the false assertion that Muslims were under siege.
The same dynamic is playing out with King. Rather than examine the facts about Islamist extremism, the links to terror, and the troubling growth of such extremism, the discussion of the King hearings has centered on whether the congressman or those who share his concerns are prejudiced against Muslims, not whether there is a dangerous minority within the Muslim population who support Islamist beliefs and groups. While King has done nothing to deserve the comparison with Joseph McCarthy, whose false charges discredited the honorable cause of anti-Communism in this country for a generation, the media assault on the congressman has been predicated on the fallacious notion that any hearings about Muslim-inspired terror is inherently prejudicial and therefore wrong.
The goal for CAIR on other groups is to render the entire discussion of Islamist extremism out of bounds for public comment, and it must be admitted that the stories about King’s hearings so far indicate that they are having some success. Thus, it would not be surprising that some in the House leadership are worried that they, too, will be the targets of false charges of bigotry as this debate develops.