WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican congressman who has organized controversial hearings into radical Islam called Muslims “part of the mosaic” of America on Wednesday and said they shouldn’t feel threatened or intimidated by his inquiry.
“If there is going to be animosity, I would blame it on my opponents,” Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said in a nationally broadcast interview.
Mr. King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, has come under withering criticism for the hearings scheduled to begin Thursday. Protests already have started, and comparisons to McCarthyism and the era of communist witch hunts are being heard.
In one appearance on morning television, Mr. King was asked if he was singling out the Muslim community rather than focusing on a more generalized terror threat against America.
“It might be politically correct, but it makes no sense to talk about other types of extremism, when the main threat to the United States today is talking about al Qaeda,” Mr. King said. He noted that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has said there have been some 50 home-grown terrorists arrested in this country and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the threat has never been higher.
“It would diffuse and water down the hearings” to broaden the line of inquiry, Mr. King said. The congressman said the hearings are aimed at protecting Muslims from being pressured to commit terrorist acts.
At the White House on Wednesday, spokesman Jay Carney was asked about the administration’s position on Mr. King’s hearings and said, “We welcome congressional involvement in this issue.
“In the United States, we don’t practice guilt by association,” Mr. Carney added. “We believe Muslim-Americans are part of the solution.”
Anticipating the hearings, the White House had dispatched Denis McDonough, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, to give a speech about religious tolerance Sunday at a Washington-area mosque known for its cooperation with the FBI and its rejection of the al Qaeda brand of Islam. Mr. McDonough’s message: “We’re all Americans.”
Before coming to Congress, Mr. King was an outspoken supporter of the Irish Republican Army. Mr. King, then the comptroller of Nassau County, N.Y., told a 1982 pro-IRA rally on Long Island that he supported the IRA’s “struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” the New York Times reported in Wednesday’s editions.
Three years later, it said, Mr. King declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.”
Mr. King on Wednesday called the article distorted said he wasn’t worried that his actions “were wrong.”
In 2005, as a member of Congress, Mr. King called on the IRA to disband, saying it was a major impediment to peace in Northern Ireland. He accused the outlawed IRA of making a string of bad decisions that had sewn hostility within Irish-American circles.
Of the hearings this week, Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, on Wednesday faulted his colleague for inviting only a single law enforcement witness. Mr. Ellison, one of just two Muslim members of Congress, also accused Mr. King of prejudging his committee’s inquiry, saying the controversy surrounding the hearings are setting “a tone of blame” even before the inquiry is gaveled to order.