Ron Radosh

The Inanities of Peter Beinart: Why He is Wrong about the King Hearings

In his attack on Rep. Peter King’s hearings on radical Islam in America, Peter Beinart comes up with one of the most ridiculous and wrongheaded analogies I have ever come across. First, Beinart writes that King “isn’t holding hearings on domestic terrorism; he’s holding hearings on domestic terrorism by one religious group.” This is wrong, says Beinart, because most American terrorism is not Muslim terrorism.

He points to individual attacks taking place in past years from people like Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph and Bruce Edwards Ivins. That does not wash. These were individuals who were either greatly emotionally disturbed, like Jared Lee Loughner, or motivated by crazy ideas they subscribed to which were not shared by others in the particular movements they believed in. Right-wing militias who believe in attacking every agency of the federal government can be dangerous. But they are relatively isolated in certain areas of the country, and easy for the FBI to infiltrate and watch over.

The reason hearings on radical Islam are necessary is because in scores of mosques, imams are preaching jihad as the path to glory, recruiting Americans in the name of Islam to join up with al-Qaeda or other terrorist cells, and motivating individuals to act on their own to commit acts of violence. Major Hasan had given scores of notices that he subscribed to such a doctrine; yet out of a desire not to brand Islam as a religion of terror, every sign Hasan gave was ignored, until it was too late and he went on his shooting spree in 2009.

Next, Beinart offers the analogy to which I refer. He writes:

But even if American Muslims are statistically more likely to commit terrorism than non-Muslims, it is still wrong to define the problem in religious terms. I’m pretty sure that in the 1950s, Jews—given their overrepresentation in the American Communist Party—were overrepresented as Soviet spies.(my emphasis) Italians may have been overrepresented in organized crime. Yet for a member of Congress to define either Soviet subversion or organized crime as the province of a particular religious or ethnic group would still have been wrong.

Does Beinart know how to think before he sets something down and puts it on the internet? Jews, for various reasons, made up a large component of the members of the American Communist Party. But the top Party leaders were men like Earl Browder, a native of Kansas; Gus Hall, a steel worker and typical white ethnic; and William Z. Foster, who made his name in 1919 as a leader of the Great Steel Strike, and came from a syndicalist background.

More important is his claim that Jews were “overrepresented as Soviet spies.” First, that is demonstrably false. Let us look at the list of some of the top Soviet spies uncovered since the Venona release and other material found in the papers of ex-KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev. They include Alger Hiss — as white, Protestant, and establishment as you can get; the liaison from the White House to the State Department of both FDR and Truman, Duncan Lee; and others including William A.Remington, Noel Field, Frederick Vanderbilt Field, Rudy Baker, Cedric Belfrage, Thomas A. Bisson, Rose Browder, Jane Foster, Kitty Harris, and so forth. I could go on and on with more names, but you get the point.

Beinart was obviously thinking of the Soviet network put together by Julius Rosenberg, made up of his college comrades who were majoring in engineering or the sciences, and who were all Jewish. And there were other Communists who did work for the NKVD or GRU who were Jewish, but their number was not more and possibly less than the people I listed who were not Jews.

In both cases, those who went to work for the Soviets as couriers, spies, or assets were all motivated by the same thing — their belief in Communism and in the Soviet Union and Stalin as leaders of the world revolution. Those who were Jews did so as Communists, and their service to the Soviets had nothing to do with their religion or ethnic identity. Once caught, the Communists sought to gain sympathy and support for the Rosenbergs by arguing that they were targeted because of the anti-Semitism of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Suddenly, the Jewish religion they spurned became singled out as a ruse to gain support for them from other patriotic Jews whom the defense thought would be motivated to help free the Rosenbergs because they were sensitive to the rampant anti-Semitism of that era.

Beinart disagrees. He writes:

But wait, you say, there’s a difference: It wasn’t their Jewishness that made Jews disproportionately join the Communist Party or their Italianness that made Italians disproportionately join the Mafia. Well, in a sense, it was.(my emphasis) At a certain moment in time, certain aspects of Jewish-American or Italian-American sociology disproportionately predisposed Jews and Italians to certain problematic behavior.

No, Peter. Jewish Communists joined the CPUSA for the same reason as did Christian Communists. They believed in Marxism-Leninism. The majority of Jews, who were politically left or liberal New Dealers, had nothing to do with those who were pro-Communist. Many were exactly the kind of anti-Communist liberal you purport to be.

African-American Communists joined because in the age of virulent racism, in the South especially but also in the North, the Communists alone emphasized black-white unity and fought relentlessly for civil rights — except, of course, during World War II, when black Americans were suddenly told to put their work for black freedom on the back-burner, because the U.S. had to defeat the Axis, and the U.S. could not afford to harm the war effort by raising problematic and divisive issues on the home front. After all, everything — including civil rights — was second to defense of the Soviet Union, which was what any good Communist had as their preeminent cause.

Beinart then concludes that today, although Muslims too might be predisposed to “problematic behavior,” the government should target their behavior, “not the religious or ethnic group.”

Wrong again: All the jihadists come from mosques in which they received inspiration and/or education in the doctrine of radical Islamist thought. All the major terrorist actions that threaten the United States and the West today come from adherents to Islam who have been radicalized. It is true that “not all the terrorist sympathizers in America are Muslim.” Plenty of them are Leftists — but I don’t think that is what Beinart is thinking of. But all of those who have sought to do the most damage, or did so on 9/11, were Muslims.

How do we then prevent future attacks? The answer is clear: by doing just what Rep. King is seeking to do with his investigation. This is not, as Beinart says, “anti-Muslim bigotry.” It is plain common sense. And Beinart should spare us his words about how King’s work stands opposed to the policies of George W. Bush, which Beinart suddenly sees as something to praise. While Bush was in office, Beinart had nothing but derision for him.

Finally, I have a question for Tina Brown. How can you offer Peter Beinart as a columnist for both The Daily Beast and now Newsweek when he consistently comes up with continuing inane platitudes which substitute for wisdom? Can’t you find a smarter liberal to fill his space?

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