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Keith Ellison: Should We Fear Islam?

Keith Ellison discusses the interesting if seriously flawed show that Christiane Amanpour held this past week. He rips into the format and discusses what would happen if we replaced Islam with Black or Jewish and proceeds to call for a heightened more intelligent discourse.

Should we fear Islam? (Washington Post)

by Congressman Keith Ellison

At a time when our nation is seeing a rise in intolerant behavior, crossing every cultural line, whether based on race, religion or sexual orientation, we seem simultaneously stuck with a national news media that is preoccupied with conflict and controversy when we desperately need one that weighs facts and reports fairly. A recent national news program reinforced these concerns. Let me explain what I mean.

Imagine a respected TV show or news magazine article with the title, “Should Americans Fear Black People?”

Imagine staccato hip-hop music for the teaser, with clips of black gang members toting guns, hanging around urban scenes, looking scary. Imagine the zoom-in close up of a shoulder tattoo, proclaiming “Thug for Life.”

As the host (some household name) opens the show, imagine that the white expert opining about the root causes of urban decay is a nationally recognized racist, like for instance, David Duke. With a straight face, and no sense of irony, the host solicits Duke’s views, who proceeds to declare, “when the American people saw the LA riots, they received a peek into their future.”

Imagine the television cameras going in search of voices of ‘real’ black people. Where do they go? The ‘hood of course! I mean, where else do black people live?

The intrepid host invites regular Americans to ask the experts to explain black pathology: “Why is their rap music so degrading to women?” Cynthia from Wyoming wonders. “Why are so many blacks at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder?” Chuck from New York State muses.

Is this starting to get a little uncomfortable? Of course, it is. Just ask Don Imus about the wisdom of indulging in racial stereotyping against blacks. Add Jews, Catholics, gays and others as well. Not a good idea.

Now replace black with Muslim, and that’s just about how ABC News treated Islam and Muslims this past weekend, on 20/20 and This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

There were the obligatory clips of terrorist training camps, the planes flying into the twin towers, the victims of so-called ‘honor killings.’ The Muslim experts – looking officially ‘Islamic’ in their long beards and hats – included one declaring that one day the flag of Islam would fly over the White House. The non-Muslim experts – Robert Spencer(leading anti-Muslim advocate in the Park51 Project controversy), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (prolific anti-Muslim writer), and Franklin Graham (said Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion”) – are well known, even famous, for spewing anti-Muslim hate. Of course, these characters emphatically agreed with the caricatures with long beards and white hats, repeating the propaganda that Islam requires its adherents to dominate people. Among the ‘normal’ Muslims interviewed were a woman in niqab (fewer than 1% of Muslim women in America wear the full face veil and accompanying robes), and Muslims in the Muslim ‘hood’, cities, like Dearborn, MI, and Patterson, NJ.

Do some Americans fear black people? For sure. But we don’t validate those fears by allowing them to be expressed with fake innocence on respected news shows. Why are fears of Muslims validated by television airings?

Are there criminals in America who are African-American? Yes, again. But they’re not presented as representative figures of the community by reputable news programs. Why do such shows go out of their way to find the scariest, most cartoonish Muslims possible and present them as spokespeople for Muslims?

No serious journalist would ask a random black guy with a briefcase on the street to explain the pathology of an African American criminal because of the coincidence of shared skin color. But serious journalists called on ordinary Muslim Americans to explain the behavior of homicidal maniacs and extremists, thereby making the link between the crazies and the mainstream community.

Are there people willing to offer all sorts of racist theories about black crime, from problems in black genes to deficiencies in black culture? Plenty. But the only time they show up on mainstream news shows are as examples of racism, not as experts on race.

We are having a national conversation about belonging. The threatened Qur’an burning in Florida and the controversy over the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan are examples of this national conversation about whether America can stretch her arms wide enough to embrace Muslims too. Irresponsible and sensational depictions of Muslims in the popular media are not the cause of Islamophobia, but they certainly can make it worse. Recent news shows and media reports do nothing to shed light or understanding on this national conversation, which is too bad.

But the conversation must continue. And I hope it continues in our mosques, churches, synagogues and other holy places, with Americans of all faiths talking face to face about differences and about our shared humanity – free of the stereotypes that, lately, are so prominent in our TV shows and magazines.

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  • TheBigT

    I honestly expected a better report than this from Christiane Amanpour, that said Congressman Keith Ellison’s article was amazing and well thought out

  • Pingback: Should we Fear Islam? | Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts()

  • Dawood

    Agreed – he’s a very nice bloke too!

  • Farlowe
  • Dawood

    A lot has happened recently in Australian politics, that’s for sure. There have also been a number of state parliament members of Muslim background, who, unfortunately, have also had hate campaigns etc. against them due to their Muslim beliefs/background and the whole “creeping shari’a” nonsense, which is quite sad.

  • Cynic

    That’s great Farlowe (no sarcasm intended)

  • Farlowe

    For anyone whose interested, Australia has also welcomed its first Muslim member into federal parliament at the last election. I believe he took the oath on the Quran. We also welcomed the first indigenous Australian into the house of representatives, the first woman elected as PM, the first Green Party member elected, and the youngest ever member (age 20) elected. And as far as I can tell the sky has not fallen in as a result of any of these events.

  • Farlowe

    I apologise for my own silliness in misreading an article on Hizb ut Tahrir. Ellison is in no way associated with Hizb ut Tahrir.

  • Farlowe

    I am incorrect. I misread an article. Keith Ellison did not attend that conference. Please remove my question.

  • muhammad ‘abd-al haqq

    @Farlowe

    “Didn’t Ellison attend the Hizb ut Tahrir conference?”

    Let me guess, hizb ut tahrir is a terrorist organization, designated as such by the US government, but they held a conference in the US of A?

    Allahu A’lam

  • Farlowe

    Didn’t Ellison attend the Hizb ut Tahrir conference?

  • James

    No offense Ali, your points are full of energy, however, at the end of the day they are meaningless without some standard of objective morality. As the professor of ethics and philosopher Simon Blackburn attests to (and he’s an Agnostic Atheist).

    So all this political jargon regarding rights and what not rest upon subjectivity in the absence of a conceptual anchor point, such as God. And human subjectivity is perhaps, the greatest cause of all the conflict we see around us – because we cannot agree when the conclusions are based on OUR opinions. However, what if they are based on fact? On Truth? Would people care any more or less?

    Islam defines this objective standard as being Allah, which makes sense of these moral values (i.e. why they are true). However, what of those other ideologies? Do they? I mean no intolerance here, my questions are merely intellectual, however, they do require an answer, and a very good one at that.

  • Eternel

    @Ali
    Interesting but I would like to know which one is, according to you, a supremacist ideology.
    Thanks.

  • Ali

    I find this type of political debate pointless. The Left are defining themselves by who they oppose, rather that what they support and promote.

    Do you support Gender Equality, Freedom to love whom you wish regardless of gender, religion or race, human rights of all people to be equal under state law.

    Or

    Do you support killing gays, killing blacks, legal rape of women within marriage, female subservience in society, women not being allowed to drive or be educated, genital mutilation, child marriage, funding murder of commuters.

    Fascist, Communist, Buddhist or Atheist it is the RIGHTS you protect, The causes you Champion that determine the impact and truth of your political actions. Not the LABEL you give the organisation you Support or Oppose.

    Consider history as being worthy of study. All sides always believe they are correct in every conflict.

    How did Social Equality become the “Red Terror”? How did National Socialism become the “Holocaust”?

    When did Students start supporting a totalitarian ideology? When did Governments start justifying beheadings and amputations as Cultural Diversity?

    Think about what you Stand For. Think about where YOU stand, and Who you stand WITH.

    Make an effort to read the religious teaching of Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed and the actions of their followers in this age. There is fault within all but only one is a supremacist ideology.

    What does it mean to you to be a Liberal?

    Consider also lies are told by all sides in politics. Can you spot your ownsides lies and flaws.

  • Khushboo

    Thanks David for the info. LOL @ Jazzologist’s reply.

  • David

    LOL

    Geller’s readers are batshit insane. She posts an open thread linking to a song on Youtube, then:

    http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2010/10/parkers-open-thread.html#comment-6a00d8341c60bf53ef01348811fa79970c

    “you wont be listening to SHIT if we don’t take care of the country…NOW!”

  • Khushboo

    I actually thought Christian Amanpour seemed more sympathetic towards us but after reading this article, I see it in a different light. Thanks Congressman Ellison for opening my eyes!

  • FXG

    The people who debated for us missed so many points especially Daisy Khan, and the Imam from Tennessee. The Imam had a thick Arabic accent which alone is enough to completely dilate his arguments. On top of that, the imam couldn’t respond correctly due to his slight deficiency in English. It would have been much better if another fluent person like Reza Aslan or Hamza Yusuf was on the spot to defend our side.

    The only person that spoke the most wisdom was the women whose child was killed on 9/11.
    She was the one who said you can fill every one of those screen with extremist when Christiane brought that cartoon figure Anjam Choudry from goddamn Britain on some American Muslim issue.

    About Ayaan they could have shut her up with the fake story she made to come to Netherlands and got kicked out for it, not to mention she used the same story in her anti-Muslim books.
    About Franklin Graham and the other fat person they could have easily handled when they mentioned some terrorist screaming “Allah akbar” by mentioning that Bush used the word “crusade” and said “god” told him to go and blowup Iraq. So why the double standard? Couldn’t the Iraq war count as christian terrorism since Bush used those christian rhetorics? Also why cant it be counted as democratic state terrorism since afterall democracy is being spread with WMD lies, “shock and awe” mass terror, guns and carpets bombs there?

    I think most Muslims are afraid to speak up. Dont be afraid just tell it like it is. MLK, Malcolm X werent afraid to talk. Just speak up. We have the

  • Angeluvmine

    and they do nat. why do you thin they spent so much time “linking” him to “terrorism” when he was running for office? because he represents the type of muslim they hate the most: muslims that defy the stereotype.

  • nat

    So beautifully written. Americans shouldn’t fear Islam, but the Islamaphobia industry should fear truth tellers like Keith Ellison.

  • Justin

    The show was totally flawed because they brought on Robert Spencer, for God’s sake! Two seconds of research reveals him to be an utterly intolerant bigot, as Reza Aslan demonstrated. They only brought him on because it made good television. The whole premise was stupid and wrong. We would never have a “debate” about whether Americans should fear any other group.

  • Biz

    This was a good article by Congressman Ellison. We would never treat any other minority group this way. Why is it ok to treat Muslims this way.

  • NassirH

    I thought the imam and Aslan were good. The show was obviously flawed, but Spencer and Graham getting humiliated made up for it.

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