Rep. Keith Ellison is known for his impassioned speeches, especially when it comes to religion. At last summer’s General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Minneapolis, his fiery speech about Christianity touched on themes of unity and love. But today he testified not with bravado but through tears at New York Republican Rep. Peter King’s controversial Homeland Security Committee hearings on Muslim-American “radicalization.” Ellison, Congress’ first Muslim member, broke down while telling the story of 23-year-old Muslim American paramedic Mohammad Salman Hamdani, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Ellison started out his lengthy testimony by stating that he disagrees with “the premise of this hearing,” before getting to his main point: “Ascribing the evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community is wrong; it is ineffective; and it risks making our country less secure.”
Repeating a familiar refrain, he later stated:
Solutions to the scourge of domestic terrorism often emerge from individuals within the Muslim community-a point I address later in my testimony. However, demanding a “community response” (as the title of this hearing suggests) asserts that the entire community bears responsibility for the violent acts of individuals. Targeting the Muslim American community for the actions of a few is unjust. Actually all of us-all communities-are responsible for combating violent extremism. Singling out one community focuses our analysis in the wrong direction.
In concluding, Ellison spoke of Hamdani, who loved the Star Wars movies, sang in Handel’s “Messiah” and “wanted to be seen as an All-American kid.”
“Muslims stood with the rest of America united in grief, in their resolve to protect America. Along with Americans of all faiths, Muslim Americans rushed in to save and rescue victims of Al-Quaeda’s terrorism,” he said, leading to his tearful recollection of the 9/11 first responder Hamdani.
“Some people spread false rumors that speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was Muslim,” Ellison said. “But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”
The hearings have been “pilloried as an exercise in attention-grabbing ethnic-baiting and scapegoating and as an essentially unfair government-sanctioned exercise in Islamophobia,” as John Tomasic writes at the Colorado Independent. King, who is chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended the hearings today.
“To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee – to protect America from a terrorist attack,” he said. “Despite what passes for conventional wisdom in certain circles, there is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings.”
Update: Minneapolis DFLers have offered their take on the hearings and Ellison’s words. “It’s simply wrong to single out the Muslim community,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn in a statement. “Terrorism knows no single race, creed, or religion and alienating an entire population is not only incredibly intolerant and unjust, it undermines our goals of preventing terrorism here and abroad.”
“The Muslim community doesn’t deserve this treatment,” said Rep. Jim Davnie. “As Representative Ellison pointed out, they have helped foil several terror plots since 9/11. The Minneapolis Muslim community has developed a solid, trusting relationship with law enforcement, and hearings like these jeopardize that relationship.”
“I’m proud to stand with my US Representative and stand with our Muslim community,” said Rep. Karen Clark. “These are our friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow citizens who deserve our respect, not suspicion and witch hunts.”