How Peter King may make the terrorist threat worse

HOW PETER KING MAY MAKE THE TERRORIST THREAT WORSE…. After months of controversy and preparation, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) will kick off his anti-Muslim hearings this morning on Capitol Hill. The list of reasons to be concerned about this is pretty long, but there’s one angle in particular I thought I’d focus on.

King’s exploration of the “radicalization” of the Muslim-American community is plainly offensive. The hearing and its motivations are divisive, bigoted, and bordering on modern-day McCarthyism. The point seems to be one conservative politician’s desire to pit Americans against other Americans.

But let’s say you don’t care about any of that. Maybe you don’t really mind divisiveness, bigotry, or McCarthyism. Those may be principles to avoid, but perhaps your focus is more practical than ideological.

If so, maybe you’ll care that Pete King may inadvertently be making the United States less safe with his little stunt.

Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International, noted the other day that King, perhaps without realizing it, is “damaging cooperation from the greatest allies the U.S. has in counterterrorism.” This basic truth seems to elude Republicans — the Muslim-American community hates terrorism, and has played a critical role in bringing dangerous individuals to justice.

Most pernicious, [King] has claimed that American Muslims have generally refused to cooperate with law enforcement agencies on terrorism cases. He has cited no evidence for this, either, but a study issued last month by Duke University and the University of North Carolina found just the opposite. The American Muslim community has been the single largest source of tips that have brought terror suspects to the attention of authorities, the study found. (It also found that the number of American Muslims found or suspected to be part of terror operations dropped substantially in 2010.)

In all, 40% of all terrorism arrests in the U.S. came after a tip from the Muslim-American community.

Instead of celebrating this, and thanking the community for its life-saving vigilance, King is doing the exact opposite — accusing his own counterterrorism allies of disloyalty, breeding mistrust of those who’ve helped prevent domestic attacks.

What Pete King is doing, in other words, is singling out his most important allies, and telling them, “I don’t trust you and I don’t want the rest of the country to truth you, either.”

This isn’t just offensive; it’s counter-productive. What happens if members of the Muslim-American community, feeling unappreciated and disrespected, simply stop reaching out to law enforcement with counterterrorism tips? How will that make the country safer?

One of the reasons the United States has traditionally avoided the kind of religious strife seen in other countries is that America doesn’t have a “radicalized” Muslim population. On the contrary, thanks to the fact that we separate religion and government, prohibit discrimination on religious grounds, have civil rights laws, and embrace the principle of equal opportunity, the United States is generally a model of how to avoid the radicalization of minority faith communities.

Of course, we know precisely how a religious minority does become radicalized. The easiest way is for the government to single them out, treat them as a suspect class, and make reckless accusations while suggesting their civil rights are somehow negotiable.

King may not realize it, but his gambit today will make us less safe, not more.