Of Predators and Radicals: King’s Hearings and the Political Economy of Criminalization

[The witness table at Peter King's first

By Robert Chlala on Jadaliyya.com

If King’s parade of hysteria succeed in one aspect, it is bolstering an expansive political economy of security – from ever-burgeoning prisons to expanded capacities for police and specialized intelligence agencies to new disciplinary technologies. Where the war on gangs/drugs/youth and the war on radical Islam/terrorism converge is in the billions of dollars poured not only into the actual public policing and intelligence infrastructure, but also into the private corporations that produce technologies from metal detectors to security cameras to tasers, companies that happen to manage thousands of the prisons that have sprouted up across the country and command an army of “counter-terrorism”/security experts at the governments beck-and-call.

To understand Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings on the “extent of radicalization” of U.S. Muslims before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, one need not go so far back as the McCarthy era or Japanese interment (At the same time Congressman Mike Honda of California’s public stance connecting the King hearings to internment is worth noting here – and a powerful statement). Listening to the few, highly-orchestrated testimonies King assembled, I was brought back to a much more recent historical moment, growing up in early 1990s Los Angeles. In those (quite recent) days, a national discourse – marked, overall, by hysteria – emerged over what do with the “problem” of urban youth violence, with the communities in question overwhelmingly in abstentia. The process they signified offer an apt point of reference to examine the continued institutionalization of Islamophobia. Some twenty years after similar hearings on youth violence became commonplace on the Hill, we have only gained a brutal juvenile incarceration system, a continual disdain towards questions of educational and socio-economic access, and a massive security industry that makes state violence the only solution to social questions.