In an interview late this afternoon in CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, the incoming Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives, talked about his reaction to the objections by Representative Virgil Goode, Republican of Virginia, to his election and decision to take his oath of office by swearing on the Koran.
Mr. Ellison: Well, what I’d tell him is that, you know, there might be a few things about Muslims that he might want to know. He might want to know that Muslims, there are about five million in the country, that they’re here to support and strengthen America, that they are nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids who just want to live and prosper in the American way, and that there’s really nothing to fear, and that all of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he’s opposed to, which is the terrorists.
And so there’s nothing for him to be afraid of, and that what we should do is to tell our constituents that we should reach to each other, not be against each other, and we should find ways for common ground.
I would urge Congressman Goode to have his congregation reach out to a synagogue or a mosque and start some interfaith dialogue so that we can increase understanding among each other, as Americans of different faiths. That’s what I’d tell him.
Mr. Blitzer: Do you think he’s a bigot?
Mr. Ellison: You know what? I don’t know the fellow. And, you know, I’d rather just say that he has a lot to learn about Islam. And, you know, we all have a lot to learn. I don’t know him. I look forward to meeting him. I’m not afraid of being frank about my views about him, but I simply haven’t gotten a chance to get to meet him so I don’t want to start any name calling.
Asked by Mr. Blitzer what he thought of the reaction to his election, and to his swearing-in preference, Mr. Ellison said:
Well, Wolf, I’m glad you made that distinction because when I’m officially sworn in, I will do it the same, exact way as every Congressperson-elect who is sworn in. We will all stand up and, in unison, lift our hand and swear to uphold that Constitution.
And then later, in a private ceremony, of course, I’ll put my hand on a book that is the basis of my faith, which is Islam. And I think that this is a beauty. This is a wonderful thing for our country, because Jewish members will put their hands on the Torah, Mormon members will
put their hand on the Book of Mormon, Catholic members will put their hand on the book of their choice. And members who don’t want to put their hand on any book are also fully free to do that. That’s the American way.
But I think that we need to not focus on what religious text any Congress member might want to use. Let’s focus on the text that binds us together. That’s the Constitution. That’s a great document, and I’m looking forward very much to raising my hand and swear to uphold that Constitution.
Mr. Blitzer: So when you hear comments like Virgil Goode’s, I suppose — you’ve reacted in all of your public statements, as well as here, really taking the high road, but I assume inside, it’s really irritating you.
Mr. Ellison: Well, Wolf, you know, my reaction, externally and internally is the same. I can honestly say that I’m not angered by Representative Goode’s comments. I just think it’s a learning gap we have to close.
And he and Mr. Blitzer reminded everyone that Mr. Ellison was born in Michigan, converted to Islam in the 1970s while in college, and traced his ancestors back to Louisiana, from 1742. “I’m about as American as they come,” Mr. Ellison said.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Keith Ellison Speaks
Blogging here has been light as the holidays approach. There really are more important things in life. But I caught this post in the New York Times and wanted to call attention to it. Incoming Representative Keith Ellison is going to do MN proud: