Most born-and-bred New Yorkers understand why Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is rightly preoccupied with thwarting Islamic extremism. In the wake of 9/11 and subsequent extremist plots, Americans are entitled to be keenly invested in their security — even at the risk of defying political correctness. That is why King's latest round of hearings on radicalization in America's Muslim community on Wednesday — assessing the threat of Muslim-Americans in U.S. prisons — were worthwhile.
But King’s approach to eradicating homegrown terrorism is incomplete.
Security is also about how comfortable we are talking with each other. So his next hearing on radicalization should emphasize how communities can erode and ultimately defeat extremism through inter-faith and community-based dialogue. Such a hearing could result in templates or even an experimental federal program to facilitate inter-faith discussion, seminars, town halls, and projects within neighborhoods.
This is as essential to the health and security of King’s district and the rest of the country as anything else. This kind of initiative is not just a way to disrupt potential Islamic fundamentalism — and encourage fuller cooperation of practicing Muslims with local cops and intelligence officials. Such efforts also have the ability to engender the kind of empathetic citizenship — tolerance of all faiths — to which every citizen should aspire.
Notorious for his sometimes insensitive remarks to religious and ethnic minorities, King is not a likely candidate for spearheading what he would deem inadequately soft tactics to confront extremists. But he should if he wants to assess America's full range of anti-terrorism strategies. Moreover, it is long past time for King, whose native Long Island has witnessed a recent explosion in diversity, to be more sensitive to all minority communities increasingly in his own backyard. Another hearing could be a good start.