Rep. King using Nixon's playbook: create the enemies you need
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will begin holding hearings Thursday on "the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims." Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has characterized the hearings as "a witch hunt." Are they?
King also has said he believes the "self-radicalization" of American Muslims represents "a very small minority" of the overall community. What are the potential consequences of singling out one religious group?
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, begins his hearings this week on "the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims" This is a move straight out of the Richard Nixon playbook: create the enemies you need. This is unwise on many levels. Fear-mongering and enemy-stereotyping are both dangerous and ineffective strategies for really dealing with real threats. Creating enemies of religious minorities also undermines our Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion.
Creating the enemies you need, however, is a very effective, short term way to gain political power. I have written before that I think Islamophobia is the "New McCarthyism," but watching the build up to this week's hearings, and the inflamed rhetoric around them, the better analogy may be to the tactics of Richard Nixon. Fear-mongering about shadowy threats is a tried and true way to gain political capital. No one has done this better in American politics, in my view, than Richard Nixon and his "trademark" anti-Communism.
Nixon "vigorously attacked" a New Deal Democrat in the House "for being dominated by Communist-controlled labor unions" and "accused the Democrats of allowing Communists to enter important positions in the federal government, thus undermining American security and threatening to "socialize" the United States," according to his Senate biography.
Sound familiar? Rep. Peter King and his hearings are part of an emerging pattern where Republicans are exchanging the "Islamic threat" for the "communist threat" and running the same plays as before. This is certainly going to be the new "wedge" issue in the 2012 presidential campaign.
There are a number of problems with using the "Nixon playbook" on gaining political power through creating enemies. Because it is a fear-based strategy, it depends on ever-heightened levels of fear to feed the political machine and it breeds contempt for the rule of law. Nixon's fear-based playbook ultimately led to the Watergate scandal and his resignation as President.
It's also the case that extreme, fear-based strategies don't end up making us a lot safer. This was true in the era of McCarthyism as well. Perhaps the best-known Christian theologian of the twentieth century, Reinhold Niebuhr, criticized McCarthy not for taking the communist threat seriously, but for failing to find any communists, as Richard Fox notes in his biography of Niebhur.
As with communism, the threat is real, as the White House has consistently stated. But while the terror threat is real, are the scare tactics of Islamophobia, including these hearings on "radicalization" the best way to help keep us all safer from domestic terrorism?
No, it is not. Law enforcement experts tend to agree that partnering with Muslim communities to deal with domestic terror threats is the best approach.
Creating enemies of religious others also undermines our constitutional values of freedom of religion. More than 80 religious leaders, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, as well as others, have signed a letter urging Rep. King to cancel the hearings. They argue that while "we must find practical solutions to stop terrorism," these hearings are the wrong way to go about it. Indeed, they will further divide us as Americans and as people of faith. They argue that our society is already wracked with division across many lines, and resulting not only more and more aggressive rhetoric but also even violent acts.
Their letter concludes that these hearings will only further polarize us as Americans. "Last month, our nation was shocked by a savage shooting spree in Arizona. This brazen attack killed or injured fellow Americans, including your colleague in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As we mourn together in the wake of this painful tragedy, leaders of both parties have called for an elevated civic dialogue that transcends fear-mongering and polarization. These hearings are unworthy of that noble goal."
I agree. Creating enemies has never worked out well for us as a nation in the long run. Treating each other with respect and as fellow citizens, and honoring our traditions of religious pluralism has worked for us.
Posted by: Farnaz2Mansouri21 | March 7, 2011 8:11 PM
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Posted by: trueone | March 7, 2011 12:14 PM
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