By David Frum
If you believed the advance warnings, you probably thought Rep. Peter King (R-NY) used Wednesday's congressional hearing to continue his push to deport or inter the vast majority of American Muslims.
Naturally, that's not true at all. But given the way the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman's hearings on homegrown Islamic radicalization and terrorism have been covered, you could well imagine that the Representative from Long Island is combining McCarthy-era hysteria with World War II-style racial prejudice.
King has been a target of liberal media outlets since January, when he assumed the committee's chairmanship and announced his plans to investigate Islamic radicalism at home. In March, the New York Times published an editorial alleging that the first hearing was "designed to stoke fear against American Muslims." The Times Editorial Board even leveled a personal attack against Rep. King, accusing him of "spreading fear and bigotry."
So when this week's hearing on radical Islam in U.S. prisons was announced, the media geared up for another circus and prepared the predictable assaults on Rep. King's intentions and character. Even Congressional Democrats joined in: 50 of them signed a letter warning King against "jeopardizing the trust between Muslims and law enforcement." It was as if King were burning a Koran in the Cannon House Office Building.
Disappointingly for his critics, King's hearings were conducted in a manner that was responsible and decorous, if not exceedingly informative.
King assembled a group of knowledgeable witnesses familiar with prison populations and discussed a topic that every person in the room admitted was valid, though admittedly exaggerated. The witnesses, including among them a sociology professor from Purdue and the commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, agreed that some prisoners were exposed to radical Islam while behind bars. While there was disagreement over the scope of the danger, the witnesses and representatives could not deny the existence of a potential threat.
Even King's most vehement opponent, Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), could only muster resistance on the grounds that "focus on one particular group on the basis of race or religion can be considered discriminatory."
This stale gripe may placate the left's instinctive political correctness, but it is a straw man that deliberately obscures the real issue. In a surprising show of alertness, King responded, "Your party had control of this committee for four years and not one hearing on skinheads, Nazis, Aryan Nation, on white supremacists at all. We are not going to spread ourselves out to investigate everything, which means investigating nothing." But then again, I was only surprised because I read the Times.
There was no foaming-at-the-mouth racism for King's critics. Instead, King repeatedly reassured the audience that most Muslims are patriotic Americans. And there was no revelation of a grand Muslim conspiracy for the genuinely prejudiced. King didn't even get the full media spectacle he relishes so much.
Peter King is no Joe McCarthy and today was evidence for that point. He managed to uncover a relatively minor, though real, problem that may merit some sort of federal response. The Times must be so disappointed.