Iowa Congressman Steve King is developing a nasty habit of linking accomplished biracial American men to Islamic terrorism. For no reason, other than that dark-skinned people apparently share evil intentions across cultures.
Before President Barack Obama was elected in 2007, King warned that the “optics” of his presidency would lead Muslim extremists to dance in the streets.
Most recently, he alleged that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has refused to stand for the national anthem in a protest against racism, was engaged in activism “sympathetic to ISIS.”
If the Islamic State, renowned for its beheadings, has taken a humanitarian stance against excessive police force in America, I missed it. And if Obama’s skin tone were enough to win him such favor with Islamic militants, why are we still at war with them nearly eight years after he took office?
The way King sees it, as he told Newsmax, Kaepernick’s girlfriend, MTV’sNessa Diab, is Muslim. And because of that, Kaepernick has “taken on some different political views along the way.” Because wouldn’t any Muslim woman in America, particularly one on MTV, support an Islamist terrorist agenda to fix our race problems?
Sometimes you don’t know which is more disturbing: that King takes us for such fools he thinks we would buy into his twisted, race- and religion-baiting logic, or that we in fact do — enough of us, anyway, to keep getting him resoundingly re-elected, whether in spite of his bizarre racial hang-ups or because of them. Or is the most troubling part that he has actually convinced himself to fear dark-skinned, foreign-named presidents, quarterbacks and MTV hosts prowling our streets to do us harm?
All we do know is that it works, the fear-mongering about the outsider, the foreigner, the one who isn’t like us. It allows King to cast himself as the only one smart enough to recognize this insidious threat, gutsy enough to name it, and fighter enough to dismantle it.
King criticized Kaepernick for poorly representing the 49ers while “undermining patriotism.” The Western Iowa congressman said if he were the coach, Kaepernick wouldn’t be allowed to play until he took a knee and begged forgiveness from the American people.
As if Kaepernick isn’t himself an American person expressing his patriotism by exercising his free-speech rights to address an American problem.
Some people burned 49ers jerseys after his anthem stance; 72 percent of people polled by Reuters called his behavior unpatriotic. But 64 percent agreed that Kaepernick has a constitutional right to protest and shouldn’t be punished by the NFL. The 49ers have called it a free speech right not to stand for the national anthem. And the NFL, though encouraging players to stand, doesn’t require it.
That’s a departure from the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1968 caving to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and sending gold and bronze medal sprinters packing after their symbolic protest during the Mexico City awards ceremony. I get why an act like that could be viewed as disrespectful. But I wish more people could see it as inspirational instead, when people use their acclaim selflessly to highlight what they consider a societal injustice.
I still remember the pride I felt in America as a kid when I saw Tommie Smith and John Carlos on TV, medals around their necks, heads bowed and fists raised against racism. They looked humble, principled and courageous. They were using their wins for something bigger than themselves, to drive progress — for which they would pay a hefty price.
From anti-war to gay pride, most movements have their symbolic leaders, the ones who put a face on the issue, and whose actions compel others take a closer look. Then there are those who champion America’s free speech rights without actually wanting them put to use; they’re the folks who respond to criticism of a national policy, practice or leader by angrily reminding you they fought for your right to criticize. As if you are dissing America itself by finding fault with something in it.
So New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long’s defense of Kaepenick was encouraging. “I support my peers in exercising their right to protest,” he said on ESPN Radio’s “Russillo & Kannell” program. “I don’t think that by acknowledging as a white male that America isn’t the same for me, maybe, as it is for everybody, the same great place, that we’re complicit in the problem or that we’re saying America isn’t a great place.”
So what, exactly, is King saying every time he opens his mouth to spew conspiracies about people of a different color or faith? He does that while claiming to represent the people of Iowa. And he’ll continue to until a majority in District 4 decide they’ve had enough — I hope by Nov. 8 — to do their patriotic duty at the polls.
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Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at [email protected]