Islamic radicalization should not be off-limits as a matter of inquiry and debate. Most critics of Peter King's hearing have talked as though mentioning Islam and terrorism in the same sentence is bigotry in its own right--unless you hasten to include references to Oklahoma City, Jared Loughner, and right-wing extremists. This position is absurd, just as King says.

Militant Islam poses a distinctive kind of danger, and we should to be able to talk about it and look into it. This should not even need saying. I also have time for the view that leaders of the Muslim community in the US would be wise to denounce extremism more conspicuously, and be less defensive when the subject comes up (though in this, of course, they are partly at the mercy of the media).

The problem with King's hearing is not the topic of inquiry but, first, the format--congressional hearings are often more about politicians thrusting themselves into the news and parading pre-cooked opinions than discovering new information; this one was a case in point--and, second, its chairman, King himself. This of all subjects demands moderation, dispassion and sensitivity. He was comparatively restrained today, but King is a bombast-merchant. He has said there are "too many mosques" in the US. That remark is an expression of bigotry. According to this profile by Robert Kolker, King has said more than once that extremism has spread to 80 percent of the US Muslim population, which is ridiculous. (He also has shall we say muddled views about terrorism in general. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland he regarded the IRA as freedom-fighters, and called the British government a murder machine.)

Just the kind of calm, judicious congressman you want for a job like this.