Bob Franken

King Features Column

(Writer’s note: The arrangement with the syndicators allows these columns to be posted here a week after their newspaper release)


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How appropriate that the two events were held on the same day in Washington. At the White House, it was a conference on bullying. Up the road in the Capitol complex, it was the committee hearing to encourage the bullying of Muslims.

Obviously, the hearing’s organizer, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., wouldn’t agree with that characterization; he was, he insisted, simply exploring the “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” The more that people hammered him for pandering to anti-Islam bigotry in the United States, the more he railed against “political correctness.”

By the way, “bigotry” is the right word. Recent polls like those of Gallup and Pew Research Center show the consistent number of people who will admit to negative views of Muslims in this country hovers around 40 percent. So King and the others from within his party know full well their targeted fear-mongering would score points politically, in much the same way that Sen. Joe McCarthy exploited anti-communist hysteria back in the 1950s.

If King and the rest were serious about exploring the danger of violence from radical extremists, they wouldn’t be focusing solely on Muslims. While it is true that we continue to be frightened by the deadly violence and attempted violence of jihadists, shouldn’t we be talking at the very same time about the deadly actions of some of those on the fringes of the anti-abortion movement? Or fundamentalist Christians? Should we have hearings aimed at those religious groups? How about the other armed militia militants. And the loners? Timothy McVeigh was not a Muslim.

What’s probably needed to address a clear and present danger is a hearing on political extremism. One wouldn’t have to go far to fill out the witness list. Besides King, it could include his congressional colleagues, particularly some of the new ones who got elected by fanning the anti-government flames. They continue their crusade, holding fast to the outlandish cuts that they know full well would gut federal programs that are lifelines.

Theirs is the terrorism of demagoguery. They get feverish backing from all their fellow opportunists in the political realm and from pundits who fuel the fire with their shouted incendiary spittle. They get all the money they need from the wealthy of this nation, who want to make sure the laws protect their hoards of riches and allow them to run roughshod over common decency. They finance the right’s night riders, who exploit fear and prejudice in this nation.

This approach is nothing new. Southern segregationists ensured longevity in office by defending Jim Crow. Their ancestors were those who so fiercely maintained slavery that our nation was split apart into a bloody war. At other times, the victims have included Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps in World War II. Oh, and King should remember, in this St. Patrick’s Day season, it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t honor the Irish. Anything but. Some of the names we called them certainly would not be “politically correct.”

Happily, there were participants in the hearing who made all these points, those who angrily reminded we shouldn’t target any one group in a society like ours that pridefully claims it’s pluralistic.

Up at the White House conference, President Barack Obama made some headlines when he spoke of being hassled himself as a child: “With my big ears and the name, I wasn’t immune.” He announced a new website, Muslims in this country tell us that being ridiculed and abused are common frightening experiences. Maybe these incidents can be included in the website, in a special section about the likes of Rep. Peter King.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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