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.”
In the novel, which starts on September 11, Cross has a dawning realization that although Bush has gone out of his way not to demonize American Muslims, they don’t deserve his magnanimity. “It was becoming more and more clear to Cross that brotherhood, love, and solidarity were going one way—toward the Muslims—with very little being returned,” King writes.
Years go by, and political correctness prevents necessary surveillance. Then terrorists strike again—and this time the targets include Long Island. Realizing that something has to be done, Cross confronts members of the local Muslim community, eventually prodding them to give up information about a pending dirty-bomb attack on the New York docks. Using this intelligence, coupled with crucial leads gained from his old IRA contacts, Cross saves the day.
In some of the most stilted and didactic dialogue ever committed to page, Cross discusses the Muslim threat with an old friend, Tom Barfield, who owns a private security company. “The Muslim community is the most radical and terrorist of any immigrant group that’s ever come to this country,” Barfield tells him. Cross responds, “But didn’t they say the same about the Irish? Let’s be honest. You and I know quite a few IRA types in Queens and the Bronx.” To which Barfield answers, “To me there’s no comparison between Al Qaeda and the IRA…. The bottom line is that the IRA never worked against the United States. And most of the micks over here who supported the IRA considered themselves 100 percent pro-American, and believe me these Muslims don’t.” Concludes Cross, “September 11th proved that.”
But there’s a complication. It turns out that Fiona Larkin, a former member of a violent breakaway IRA faction, the Real IRA, is helping the terrorists. If King were a remotely empathic writer, his sympathy for the Irish community, which clearly can’t be blamed for its most radical extremists, might have extended to American Muslims as well. Instead, though, the Larkin character simply exists to show the difference between the mainstream IRA and its fringe, and to demonstrate how the Irish, unlike the Muslims, come forward of their own volition when they have information about a possible attack on America.
King didn’t dream up the Larkin subplot on his own: several British newspapers have run stories about suspected links between the Real IRA and Al Qaeda. “The global nature of terrorism ensures that at some point new connections between al Qaeda and the IRA will be uncovered, potentially unleashing a political firestorm for the IRA,” wrote Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal, a publication of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. There may well be nothing to these rumors, but they’ve got to make King nervous. As he surely knows, the IRA itself had longstanding links to the PLO as well as with Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya, which helped arm it. These are not groups that a hawkish Republican wants to be associated with, even tangentially.
So it is not surprising that King enjoys imagining himself as the hero of the global “war on terror.” Which would be fine, of course, if he kept his fantasies on the page. But now King has the power to act out this drama on the national stage. It doesn’t matter that, contrary to his statements, Muslims have come forward time and time again to turn in suspected terrorists. Last year, the FBI caught Farooque Ahmed—charged with planning an attack on the Washington Metro—in a sting operation after a source in the Muslim community reported he was trying to join a terrorist group. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the 19-year-old Somali-American accused of planning an attack on Portland, Oregon, in November, was reportedly brought to the FBI’s attention by his own father, who worried that he was becoming too radical. In California, when a member of the Irvine Islamic Center started talking about violent jihad, others in the mosque turned him in to the FBI, only to learn that the man was an FBI informant. King’s contentions about American Muslims are, literally, based on a ridiculous fiction, one intruding into all our realities.