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Crazy Political Attacks on Keith Ellison, and an Accompanying Rant on Religious Freedom

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I am a fan of the Congressman from across the river. He’s not my rep, but he’s a good rep for Minneapolis, and for Minnesota.  Keith Ellison is the man I’m not-so-subtly referring to.  Ellison is a smart and questioning representative. I’ve always admired his honesty and forthrightness, and have been proud to be from the state that elected him. Ellison supports his party, state and national leaders when he agrees, and does not when he disagrees, even on major legislation. Just what you want in a public official. Of course, Ellison is also Muslim, the first of his religion elected to national office. So he must endure the trash that accompanies such distinction.

I like to think that such trash is rare. But we are coming up on election season. This is the US of A. If we laid out a two or three principles that are absolutely essential to this American Experiment, it is freedom of religious practice and belief, and that there is no litmus test, religious or otherwise, for holding office in this country.

And yet, here we are, 2011. And this is how Keith Ellison’s opponents are challenging him.

So far, it is Gary Boisclair. Mr. Boislcair is a (so-called) Tea Party Republican, who produced this ad to be run in the democratic primary (you can watch it in the link). He plans to challenge Ellison next year. Here’s what Boisclair reads, over images of the ‘terrors’ of Islam:

Congressman Ellison swore an oath to defend the Constitution — on a Quran. The Quran says Christians and Jews are infidels. The Quran says Christians are blasphemers, who should have their hands and feet cut off, and that they should be crucified, and killed. Do you really want someone representing you, who swears an oath on a Quran — a book that undermines our Constitution and says you should be killed? I’m Gary Boisclair, and I approve this message.

The release of this ad was accompanied by a press statement titled: Christian Challenges Muslim for Congressional Seat. Got to love religious intolerance. YouTube has pulled the ad.

This isn’t the first political move that plainly disparaged Ellison’s faith. His 2010 challenger, Lynne Torgerson, also sought to bring about an electoral victory from the basement of political attack. During that campaign, Torgerson wrote on her campaign website:

What do I know of Islam? Well, I know of 911. Nineteen (19) men from Saudi Arabia, all Muslim, hi-jacked planes, and flew into the two (2) World Trade Towers murdering thousands of people, and tried to fly into our Pentagon, and some believe they also tried to fly an airplane into our White House. From this, what I perceive is Islam conducting an act of war against my country. We simply went too far with Keith Ellison. Keith Ellison simply is not a proper person to have in our federal government. … Keith Ellison has no business in our federal government.

Torgerson is spreading more intolerance this year, possibly hinting at another attempt to unseat Ellison? Making Minnesota proud.

It should be noted that Keith Ellison will not lose an election to either Torgerson or Boisclair. He is very popular in his district, winning his past elections by 40+ points in Minneapolis, where all accounts are that he is respected and very well liked by his constituents. As he should be in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we should tolerate this kind of religious intolerance, or allow individuals like Torgerson and Boisclair a spot in the process that allows them to raise money by stoking fear and hatred against a model American.

So: here’s a rant if you are interested. It doesn’t do much to clarify the problem, but this is the stuff that makes a good non-religious American furious. Why can’t you folks get it together?

How can so many Americans (and no small number of Christians) not see the blatantly immoral nature of making political attacks on an individual for his religion? This is fundamental US Constitution material. Those Founding Fathers we all love never made anything more clear than the notion that this nation does not have and cannot establish a religion. So why does it happen?

A cynical person might say that the evangelical Christian political movement only sees itself written into the history of this country. That freedom of religion really means freedom of Protestant Christianity from the persecution of Old World Christianity.

Others might argue that this is a particularly volatile time in human history, and especially American history, for Muslim and Christian relations. That in a post-911, post-War on Terror America, there is going to be intolerance and suspicion as part of the natural human reaction to terrorism.

Or, perhaps, the problem lies within the nature of Religion itself. That knowing the Truth allows for an easy discarding of other faiths. This happens all the time, as Christians distrust Muslims, and Muslims distrust Christians, in the US. In other parts of the world, it is not distrust that is brewing but killing and war. Is this religion’s fault, the by-product of certainty in the one’s faith?

No. It’s not that either. Whatever it is, people of faith on all sides, please get your act together, so those of us on the outside of all your religions can stop having to argue for religious tolerance, as you all fight among each other, debasing our American Political Process. Which, if not for such debasement, is a pretty darned good system.

Enjoy your weekend.

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Written by Christopher ZF

November 11, 2011 at 12:27

Keith Ellison, in two sentences

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The theater that is the US Government is going to start to a new production: a panel investigation of homegrown Islamic terrorism. Regardless of whether one finds this kind of investigation a good or bad idea (for the record, TRC thinks gov’t investigations of wholesale demographic groups of US citizens are a bad idea), understanding the role of Representative Keith Ellison in the country is becoming more and more important.

What does it mean to be the first Muslim elected to US Congress? What kind of expectation should or shouldn’t be placed on such an individual? I am an admirer of Rep. Ellison. I like his politics, and his fierce commitment to his values. I like that he’s from my state, and I like that my state elected the first Muslim. Minnesota is a place where difference is allowed–not just political and religious but sexual and racial, too.  So what does it mean to be the first Muslim elected to US Congress?

Here is Kevin Diaz, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writing about the panel, and Ellison. This is the second paragraph of his article:

Ellison, a Muslim whose Minneapolis district has been fertile recruitment ground for Al-Shabab insurgents in Somalia, calls the GOP-led inquiry a “McCarthyistic” witch hunt that could demonize Muslims. As a star witness in the hearing, Ellison will be spotlighted nationally as the face of American Muslims.

Read that paragraph again, and look at just how much is said about Keith Ellison in those two sentences. Anything that follows will be informed by these notions, so fully loaded with information, subtle and non-, that Diaz has at this early point comprised a framework for Ellison difficult, if not impossible, to break out of.

What do we learn? Readers know he is Muslim and from Minneapolis. That his district is a recruitment ground for terrorists. A very fertile one indeed. And not just insurgents and terrorists, but insurgents who work for the scary, unknown group Al Shabab in Somalia. Ellison, in addition, considers the investigation a McCarthyist Witch Hunt, hearkening back to the good old days when the gov’t just went ahead and turned on its citizens. (It’s in fashion now, by the way, for conservatives to defend McCarthy and HUAC because there were, indeed, Communists in the country and gov’t, which I don’t think was the point). Finally, Ellison is the star witness; he is, no burden at all I’m sure, the face of the American Muslim. Whew.

Maybe all of this is true. Kevin Diaz might be putting forth just the facts, as he understands them. Context is key, and Diaz does go on to provide a bit of context, where he can fit it into the alluring narrative of homegrown insurgents and government investigations. This is, after all, a local story with all the intrigue a local reporter could hope for. Why waste time discussing, for example, why there are so many Somali individuals living in Minneapolis in the first place, or who/what is Al Shabab?

This may seem like a lot of criticism leveled at a single paragraph in a single news story in a local paper. But it is not. Hundreds of thousands of people will likely read this story today. Many will not read the whole thing, but breeze through the first few sentences and pass on. They will get only enough information to know that the Muslim Congressman opposes his gov’t’s attempt to stem homegrown Islamic terrorism. Then they will turn the page, and read about Joe Mauer’s knee.

Written by Christopher ZF

March 7, 2011 at 11:44