If Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was looking to foster new debate on the subject of Muslim extremist elements living and actively working in America, he’s accomplished his goal.
Since the January release of his third book, “Vale of Tears,” the Congressman from Long Island has been receiving a lot of attention for statements he’s made, both in his book and in the media, that Muslim extremists control the vast majority of mosques in the United States. The new novel — really two separate stories, one that recounts the days and months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and another about future terrorist attacks set to take place against New York — is meant to send a message that the war on terror is not just being fought in far-away countries.
In a recent interview, King said he wrote “Vale of Tears” as a tribute to those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center — hundreds of whom lived in his Congressional district — and as a wake-up call to what he views as a grave threat still facing America. He specifically charges in his novel that the Muslim community is not cooperating enough with law enforcement officials to rout out terrorist elements in America.
“Our lives have changed and we’ve sort of forgotten that initial shock we had,” he said. “I think if more people read the book there will be an honest debate on this and it’s not just going to be put aside for political correctness.”
And since the book’s release, King has echoed the claims he makes in the novel — including statements that 85 percent of the mosques in the United States have “extremist leadership” — in comments made on the Sean Hannity radio show and in Newsday newspaper.
Those remarks have brought repudiations from several Democratic leaders in recent weeks. At an event last week for Muslim community leaders in Teaneck, N.J., Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) both condemned King’s recent statements.
“I think that kind of vitriolic talk might make it more difficult for the FBI to get cooperation and do their job,” Pascrell, who is on the Homeland Security Committee with King, said in an interview last week. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the Muslim community that they have and will cooperate with federal authorities.”
He added that King shouldn’t be making “a blanket statement because it has no place, particularly when we live in such a tinderbox time.”
Muslim leaders in Washington and in King’s home district have been even more adamant in decrying King’s statements.
“That’s a very dangerous statement,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. “We’re more concerned he’s trying to market the book on the back of American Muslims and exploit legitimate fears of terrorism to sell more copies of his book.”
“It creates in the minds of someone who is not familiar with the community doubts and anxiety,” said Faroque Ahmad Khan, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, which is located just outside King’s 3rd district and includes hundreds of members who live in King’s district. “At this time it’s basically a sense of shock and disappointment that someone who knew the community so well would make these kind of statements … it’s sort of a breach of trust.”
But King said he stands by his claims, which he said he bases on his own extensive research, and will not back down from the debate. He said he knows his comments may not be the popular thing to say — his office has received threatening e-mails in the weeks since his book was released — but he charges that the debate needs to happen.
“My point is that people in positions of leadership are providing poor leadership for the people in their mosques,” King said. “At the same time the overwhelming majority of people in mosques are good people … I stand by everything I said.”
In his novel, King walks a path between fiction and nonfiction by both meticulously reliving his own experience during the Sept. 11 attacks and spinning a story of a fictional terrorist attack set to take place in New York City some time in the not-too-distant future. The two distinct storylines alternate every chapter, and both play out through the eyes of New York Congressman Sean Cross, King’s obviously self-based hero.
Understanding that perhaps it’s too soon after the events of Sept. 11 to write a piece of fiction about that day, King tells the events as he saw them through the character of Cross. The book includes an excruciating minute-by-minute recreation of the day of the attacks as seen from Capitol Hill. It is followed by frantic day-by-day depictions of search and rescue efforts and accounts of the sad weeks and months of funerals and memorial services.
But as upsetting as the past storyline may be, the future storyline is even more frightening. Sleeper al Qaeda cells, protected by extremist Islamic leaders controlling the majority of U.S. mosques, carry out suicide bombings and plan nuclear terrorist attacks all under the unsuspecting noses of an unprepared American government.
King’s warning is stark and unmistakable: It can happen again if America remains complacent.
In his chapters about future terrorist attacks, Sean Cross criss-crosses New York trying to convince Muslim leaders to cooperate with law enforcement officials. He tries to get them to place their American nationality and hatred of violence over possible religious ties. The book leaves the reader with a distinct feeling of uneasiness that the danger is still very real and very lethal.
In one interesting twist, one of the major villains in the story is a group of former Irish Republican Army militants who unwittingly join up with the new al Qaeda terrorists. King — a staunch Irish Catholic whose previous novel “Terrible Beauty” is about an Irish woman who joined the IRA as a way to fight injustice — takes time in this novel to explain the character Sean Cross’ one-time support for the IRA movement and how he decided that once a political avenue was found for Irish independence, the IRA became an illegitimate organization.
Sean Cross also provides King an avenue to explain how he felt during key moments in the weeks and months after the attacks. Cross decries the partisanship he sees in the halls of the Capitol even as rescue workers attempt to put out the flames of demolished buildings. He tries to come to grips with the death of friends and describe his own panic trying to get in touch with his family in the early hours after the attack. Cross even explains how, though he supported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his 2000 presidential bid, he realized that on Sept. 11, President Bush became the right man for the right time.
In the middle of his desk in his Cannon Building office King keeps a piece of metal shaped like a cross from the World Trade Center. King readily admits that the day has done much to define his work as a Congressman. He said he wrote his new book in such a way as to tell readers two important stories from Sept. 11, which he experienced so personally.
First, King wanted to show his readers how the government remained functioning during the attacks and explain how Capitol Hill found its balance in the confusion. Second, King wanted to explain the personal stories of some of the many people in his district who lost loved ones.
And so King takes his readers from the floor of the House for Bush’s address on Sept. 20, to the home of Jimmy Boyle, the former president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association whose son was killed as the World Trade Center collapsed.
Along with depictions of the government and numerous fellow Members, King “wanted to show how ordinary people suddenly became part of this extraordinary world event.”
He added that many of the ordinary people he depicted have attended book signings he has recently held in New York. He said that each of those events has been very emotional for both himself and those who attended.
But there are also a number of people in King’s Long Island district for whom “Vale of Tears” has caused a different kind of pain.
“Prior to 9/11 our relationship was very good — he has been in my home, he has visited the mosque,” said Khan. “Afterwards he has not responded to our invitations. … The damage is done.”
But King said he is tired of the lack of effort he sees from Muslim leaders and said it is time for a change.
“It’s up to the people of the mosques to take action,” he said.