There's an interesting discussion swirling around Rep. Peter King, the GOP congressman leading hearings about radical Islam and terrorism in the House. The accusation is that he once supported a terrorist group. He admits its true, but draws a distinction. And despite it being a tough sell, he's not backing down.
A front-page report in the New York Times yesterday reminded readers that King, the descendant of Irish immigrants, was once a staunch supporter of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Irish rebel group that regularly used terrorist tactics to fight British rule:
Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army.
“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,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”
King eventually became an important key in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland, receiving the praise of Bill Clinton. But despite achieving peace, King does not regret his previous comments. In fact, he told the Times the IRA was a "legitimate force" battling British repression. Interestingly, the Times notes even some of his critics agree in part:
Even Mr. King’s critics acknowledge a fundamental difference between the violence carried out by the I.R.A., which usually sought with varying success to minimize civilian casualties, and that of Al Qaeda, which has done the opposite. The I.R.A. was responsible for 1,826 of 3,528 deaths during the Northern Irish conflict between 1969 and 2001, including those of several hundred civilians, said the historian Malcolm Sutton
“King’s exactly right to say there’s a difference of approach between the I.R.A. and Al Qaeda,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International and a former British military intelligence officer. “But I personally consider both of them terrorist groups.”
But drawing the distinction hasn't stopped many from piling on. In a segment last night, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart roasted King for his IRA support. MSNBC did the same thing the night before:
On Wednesday, King reacted by blasting the Times article as "entirely distorted," arguing it portrayed his involvement with the IRA inaccurately. Rather than taking up arms with the group, he said he was working for peace.
“What I did was take an active role,” he said, according to National Journal. “I was absolutely essential in bringing about that peace process. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are alive today in Northern Ireland because of my efforts.”
The distinction he's hoping to make is summarized in a piece in the Washington Post:
But King sees no parallel between the IRA and violent Islamist extremism, which he describes as a foreign enemy or a foreign-directed enemy. His preferred comparison for the IRA is with the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela; the IRA, no less than the ANC's military wing, was fighting for community rights and freedom, he says.
Yet that distinction he's working so hard to make in order to ward off charges of hypocrisy is a tough sell. Especially when, as King himself admits, "terrorism is terrorism."
Still, he continues his defense. "I [wanted] a peace agreement, a working agreement, where the nationalist community would feel their rights would be respected," King told the Post. "I felt that the IRA, in the context of Irish history, and Sinn Fein were a legitimate force that had to be recognized and you wouldn't have peace without them."
“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel," King explained to the Times regarding the comparison some have made between the IRA and al-Qaeda. "The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”