Ron Radosh

Rep. Peter King, the IRA, and the Hearings on Radical Islam in the United States

We all have heard the saying that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” It has a certain truth to it, and is proved over and over when partisans of the use of terror proclaim themselves as being forced to use horrendous tactics because of the overwhelming power and armed forces of those who oppress them.

The saying is brought to mind by the dredging up today of Rep. Peter King’s pro-IRA past by those opposed to his scheduled hearings on the impact of radical Islam on the American Muslim community. Clearly, the motive for these new stories, such as that in today’s New York Times, is opposition to the hearings, which the NYT editors regard as an example of Islamophobia. And the conservative community is right to defend the hearings, and to explain their necessity. PJM’s argument can be found here; the editors at National Review point out and explain why the hearings are long overdue; and Rick Moran at David Horowitz’s details how the American Left is going overboard in trying to create opposition before the hearings even take place.

But despite the obvious motivation of those who seek to derail the hearings and to minimize whatever effect they might have on the public, the bitter truth is that the IRA in its prime was a terrorist organization, whose leaders had extensive ties to both the Western Left in both the United States and Britain, as well as to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, as well as to the PLO in its terrorist heyday.

As this BBC report revealed, after 9/11, “While all American eyes are currently fixed on Muslim extremists, politicians in Northern Ireland have urged President Bush to extend the clampdown to those who raise funds for Irish paramilitary groups.” The IRA, the story continued, got most of its funding from two major sources: Libya and gullible Irish citizens of the United States who contributed to groups like NORAID and the Irish Freedom Committee. Like radical Muslim front groups today, they claimed to be raising money to support the peaceful struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland, or to support the families of Irish political prisoners held in British prisons.  The reality was that the money raised was used to purchase guns and ammunition for IRA fighters, as everyone understood at the time.

At the time, defenders like the IFC’s John McDonagh argued that the IRA gave warnings before it bombed any sites, making it therefore different from the radical Islamists who did not.  Yet many of the bombings killed scores of innocent Irish civilians, and hundreds were killed and thousands injured in over 30 years of IRA terror attacks in Northern Ireland. And IRA men were arrested in Colombia, where they were training Marxist FARC guerrillas.

In 2002, the American radical Tom Hayden wrote in The Nation about the reasons why the Left should support Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. “The recent victories for the left-wing Sinn Fein,” he wrote, “are a challenge to globalization and sharply contrast with the right-wing populism recently surfacing in other European elections.” Victory for them, Hayden wrote, “would be a defeat for U.S. officials who hope that a pro-business Irish Republic would become ‘America’s gateway’ into Europe.” Hayden understood that the IRA’s political organization was opposed to business and the multinational corporations, and advocated “progressive populist politics.”  He was pleased that one candidate who won the election in North Kerry had “spent ten years in prison for IRA gunrunning on a trawler out of Boston.”

All of this does put Rep. King in a somewhat difficult position, as his detractors realize. And Rep. King, in my opinion, has not helped his cause by his response to the attacks. Reporter Scott Shane is correct when he writes that in the 1980s, when King began his political career:

the I.R.A. was carrying out a bloody campaign of bombing and sniping, targeting the British Army, Protestant paramilitaries and sometimes pubs and other civilian gathering spots. His statements, along with his close ties to key figures in the military and political wings of the I.R.A., drew the attention of British and American authorities.

At the time, King had said in a speech to an IRA rally in 1982, “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” The problem is that King will not apologize for his past positions. He gave the Times this explanation:

“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

That simply will not wash. He was wrong in the 1980s, and was engaging in the same kind of support for the IRA that supporters of radical Islam engage in today when they make innocuous speeches claiming only that they are using speech to defend Islam against attacks from those who seek to smear a religion in the name of opposing terrorism. The IRA in fact was allied with America’s enemies, and its actions hurt America’s allies abroad, and helped its enemies.

King also compared the IRA favorably to the African National Congress battle against apartheid and the Irgun’s battle against the British in mandate Palestine before 1948. One must recall, however, that at the time the ANC was aligned with the South African Communist Party and its international activities were pro-Soviet and pro-Cuban; as for the Irgun, the mainstream Zionists condemned it as a “fascist” splinter group and called its leaders terrorists. Eventually the Haganah even took military action against it. Thus King’s analogies do not exactly help his case.

It would be far better if King could look critically at his own past, and say something like this: “In the past, my ancestral ties to Ireland and my belief in Irish independence blinded me to the tactics, politics and associations of the IRA, which I unfortunately supported years ago. Would I be able to go back in time, knowing what I do in the present, I would never have backed fund-raising campaigns that I learned helped fund IRA attacks in Britain, against civilian targets. I regret my actions. That is why I seek to help my country and the broad Muslim community stand firm today against those who would use Islam as a way to gain support for dangerous radicals who speak in its name.”

That he is doing the opposite will only hurt what he is trying to accomplish with the hearings that start today.

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