Rep. Keith Ellison was a guest on CBS News’s Face the Nation on Sunday to talk about terrorism and the commemoration of the attacks of Sept. 11. Ellison said that in fighting terrorism, it’s vital that the U.S. government keep open lines of communication with Muslim Americans. He also commented on increasingly anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, which he says may hamper efforts to counter home-grown terrorism.
There were two reasons for such sentiment, Ellison said: a misunderstanding of Islam and politicians trying to score points by scapegoating fellow Americans.
“The criminals and the murderers who did this thing to our nation, you know, they did associate themselves with my faith, Islam. That’s unfortunate. Nothing they did is the Islam I know or the overwhelming majority of the Muslims I know. But they did make that connection, so a lot of Americans are just … they don’t know anything about Islam,” Ellison said.
He added, “I think there is anxiety and frustration in the country. There are some politicians who believe it’s to their political advantage to identify scapegoats and try to turn Americans on Americans for their own political advantage by pandering to our worst instincts and fears.”
In order to bridge the divide and to bring the Muslim community into the fight against home-grown terrorism, he said American Muslims need to feel safe going to authorities and being part of the community.
“I think the right thing to do is reach out to mosques and Muslim groups across the country, to have a relationship of trust and open communication,” said Ellison. “I recommend that Americans go out and get with your churches and your synagogues, reach out to a mosque. Get to know people.”
“I think the wrong direction is to sort of target discreet and insular minority groups like Muslims and sort of focus on that community in a strict law enforcement sense. I think that could have a negative effect,” he said.
“I think the right thing to do is, one, reach out to mosques and other groups across the country to have open communication and trust, because these good loyal Americans will be among the first to say, ‘You know what? We found somebody we believe is suspicious.'”
Ellison added, “We need to make sure that we stand for civil liberties, so we can deprive people like Osama bin Laden of the claim that Muslims are poorly treated in America. The United States is not at war with Islam. The United States is a fair country.”
Ellison also traveled to New York City on Saturday to remember the lives lost in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to show support for a planned Muslim community center in Manhattan.
“The whole world is watching you, the whole world has its eyes on you right now,” he told about 2,000 people gathered in Manhattan at a candlelight vigil hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union.