December 25, 2006
Who’s Afraid of Keith Ellison?
Keith Ellison of Minnesota was elected in November as the first Muslim
Congressman in history, something about him has driven seemingly
intelligent conservatives into apoplexy.
Democrat who will represent the entire city of Minneapolis as well as
several suburbs in Congress, defeated three opponents in a contentious
primary, and later Republican and independent candidates in the general
election. In addition to being the first Muslim ever in Congress,
Ellison will also be the first African-American from Minnesota to be
sworn into the House of Representatives.
swearing in that’s drawn quite a bit of bizarre controversy. Ellison
announced that in his private ceremony, he will place his hand on the
Koran while he takes the Congressional oath. That provoked a torrent of
righteous anger from Dennis Prager, a popular conservative radio talk
show host and columnist. Prager wrote a column for TownHall.com on Nov.
28 in which he said that Ellison should not be allowed to swear on the
Koran, and that if he does not swear on the Bible, he should be
prevented from claiming his seat.
that there is no constitutional or even legal requirement dealing in any
way with oaths of office, or that the Constitution explicitly prohibits
any religious test for any office. To ask Ellison to place his hand on a
religious book (the Christian Bible) to which he does not proscribe
would make a mockery of that very oath.
tossed in such wonderful rhetorical flourishes as saying that Ellison’s
use of the Koran “undermines American civilization,” that placing one’s
hand on the Koran is akin to swearing a Congressional oath on “Mein
Kampf,” and that Ellison’s use of his own Holy Book does “more damage to
the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this
country than the terrorists of 9-11.”
generally considered one of the more reasonable and intelligent members
of the conservative radio fraternity. Unlike Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage
and Hewitt, for instance, every other word out of his mouth isn’t
demonstrably false. Another of the smarter right-wing hosts is Glenn
Beck, who also hosts a show on CNN Headline News. But Beck, too,
embarrassed himself when confronted with Keith Ellison.
appeared as a guest on Beck’s television show on Nov. 14, and in his
first question he asked, apropos of nothing, he asked Ellison to “prove
to me that you are not working with our enemies." Ellison managed to
maintain his cool after being asked that question. I can’t imagine most
others would have.
most ridiculous of all was a letter written last week by Virgil Goode, a
Republican Congressman from Virginia. Piggybacking on Prager’s column,
Goode wrote to hundreds of constituents that if Goode’s proposed
controls on immigration are not passed, “there will likely be many more
Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”
unaware of three facts: That the vast majority of immigrants to the U.S.
are not Muslims at all but rather overwhelmingly Catholic Latin
Americans, that one Muslim Congressman elected in one district (out of
435) is a tad unlikely to result in a Muslim Congressional majority
anytime soon and that Ellison is not an immigrant at all. The only
migration he’s made has been from Michigan to Minnesota.
many reasons to be wary of illegal immigration, but the threat of
Muslims coming to America and running for Congress is not high among
them. And there are many reasons to be wary of radical Islam. But Keith
Ellison, a mere local lawyer and former state legislator, is not one of
Yes, it is
true that Ellison has been reported to have something of a checkered
past, including long-ago writings that seemed to endorse black
separatism, numerous parking and traffic violations and associations
with the questionable organization known as the Congress on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
is not a radical Islamist, and there is nothing in his background that
suggests he is. Plus, it’s worth noting that neither Prager nor Beck nor
Goode has referenced any of this in criticizing Ellison. That seems to
indicate that their problem is not with anything Ellison has said or
done, but rather with the very idea of a Muslim in Congress.
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