Vale of Tears, Congressman Peter King’s 2004 thriller about Islamic terrorism in New York, is an execrable novel. But in light of the Congressional hearings King is holding on radicalism within the American Muslim community, it is a fascinating book.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, there’s been a growing hostility between King and American Muslims. According to a recent Washington Post profile, King was infuriated by Muslims in his own area of Long Island who initially doubted Al Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks. He’s become convinced that the Muslim community is harboring terrorists and shutting out law enforcement; he often claims that extremists run some 85 percent of American mosques, a number he apparently picked up from a 1999 statement by Sufi leader Hisham Kabbani, who has never revealed the source of his figure. “We have too many mosques in this country,” he said in 2007. “There’s too many people sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully. We should be finding out how we can infiltrate.”
Now chair of the Homeland Security Committee, King is holding hearings on American Muslim disloyalty. Naturally, this has alarmed the Muslim community. It has also started a discussion about King’s hypocrisy; no Congressman has ever been more closely aligned with a terrorist group than King, who heartily backed the Irish Republican Army while it was engaged in a campaign of anti-British assassinations and bombings that often targeted civilians. As Ed Moloney reported in the New York Sun in 2005, “During his visits to Ireland, Mr. King would often stay with well-known leaders of the IRA, and he socialized in IRA drinking haunts. At one of such clubs, the Felons, membership was limited to IRA veterans who had served time in jail.” A regular speaker at events for Noraid, the IRA’s fundraising arm, he was unapologetic in his justification of IRA tactics. “The IRA’s violence is only a reaction to violence started by the British government,” he said in 1985.
If Vale of Tears is any guide, King’s attitude toward American Muslims and his past support for political violence are intimately linked. Knowing that the IRA had significant support in the Irish-American community, he’s projecting a similar level of support for Al Qaeda onto American Muslims. Defensive about his long-term involvement with a group our government designated a terrorist organization, he’s eager to pose as terrorism’s greatest foe. And in love with political skulduggery, he relishes putting himself at the center of events.
King has made it no secret that Sean Cross, the hero of Vale of Tears, is a stand-in for himself. Cross, like King, is a gruff Republican Congressman from Long Island with longstanding IRA connections. In an author’s note at the beginning of the book, King writes that the chapters dealing with the events surrounding September 11 are “based on fact” and that he means the novel as a warning about “how vulnerable we can become if we lower our guard—for even the slightest moment—and if we fail to recognize that our terrorist foes comprise a worldwide network with operatives active within our borders.”