Keith Ellison Comments

Over a week ago, Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) spoke to a crowd of people in the city of Edina. He was speaking to the group Atheists for Human Rights.

The crowd enjoyed his talk. It’s not that often you hear a member of the government say something like this:

You’ll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want.

Here’s a clip of his talk:

An article about the event appeared in the Star Tribune. Atheists for Human Rights says this about the aftermath of the article on their site:

As a result of the newspaper article, we got a call from Fox News for the Bill O’Reilly show, asking for our video footage. We put them in touch with Scott Muir, who is arranging to send them some clips on condition that our organization gets mentioned as the sponsor of the public forum. Fox News will let us know when the show will air – probably within the coming week. We are aware that Bill O’Reilly will distort and disparage every thing he can about the event, but that WILL call attention to the event, which is good…

There is one portion of Ellison’s talk that is getting significant media coverage– you can bet O’Reilly will jump on it. You can find it around the 1:40 mark of the video above.

Here’s the Telegraph (U.K.) talking about his comments:

Addressing a gathering of atheists in his home state of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, a Democrat, compared the 9/11 atrocities to the destruction of the Reichstag, the German parliament, in 1933. This was probably burned down by the Nazis in order to justify Hitler’s later seizure of emergency powers.

“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that,” Mr Ellison said. “After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader [Hitler] of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

Mark Drake, of the Republican party in Minnesota, said: “To compare the democratically elected leader of the United States of America to Hitler is an absolute moral outrage which trivialises the horrors of Nazi Germany.”

It was a bad analogy to make, only because not all of the parts line up. Ellison corrected himself right after making those comments, though. A lot of these papers aren’t reporting what he said afterwards. Reason magazine does, though:

Mr Ellison said he would not accuse the Bush administration of planning 9/11 because “you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box – dismiss you.”

It also sounds like he realized the full meaning of his allegory and clarified that Bush didn’t plan 9/11, he just took advantage of it. The Telegraph reporter has no input from Ellison in his story, which relies on previously-published info about the event.

Columnist Kathering Kersten of the Star Tribune wrote about his comments and got some input from Ellison:

On Tuesday, Ellison told me that he invoked the Reichstag fire to make the point that “in the aftermath of a tragedy, space is opened up for governments to take action that they could not have achieved before that.” Which of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 actions did he place in that category? The Iraq war, Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence and certain provisions of the Patriot Act, he said.

Those seem a tad short of unleashing storm troopers, torturing political opponents and demolishing the rule of law.

During his speech, Ellison went on to tell the atheists that “I’m not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that, because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box — dismiss you.”

Granted, such statements might get you dismissed as a nutball. But are they true?

Ellison now says they are not. When we spoke, he agreed that Osama bin Laden — not the Bush administration — was responsible for the attacks on 9/11.

But why didn’t he do the responsible thing and say that when asked about it at the atheists’ meeting?

In fact, he did say so. Not to mention that most atheists know that Osama bin Laden and his religious fanaticism were responsible for 9/11.

The Star Tribune ran an editorial over the weekend (Headline: Forget the Reichstag, consider the point) defending Ellison’s comments (via Rant & Reason):

Although he was careful to keep his comments in context, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., took predictable flak for alluding to the Nazi era during recent comments about the Bush administration.

… the point Ellison was trying to make deserves a hearing: The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, were “almost like the Reichstag fire … it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

Forget about Hitler for a moment. The terror attacks of 9/11 were indeed a starting gun that kicked off a rush to expand government power. Could the Patriot Act have passed without 9/11? Would Congress have authorized a war in Iraq? No credible observer believes that the attacks were some kind of inside job (though an alarming number of people in Muslim countries are happy to think so). But neither is it credible to suppose that the Bush administration has failed to take advantage of the popular support presidents enjoy in times of crisis. Any president would do so.

Few, however, would go as far as this president has gone. Bush and his team seem intent on enlarging his authority and defying those who would challenge him or his administration. Geneva Conventions? Quaint. Habeas corpus? Flexible. Court approval of wiretaps? Outmoded. Rising calls to replace a secretary of defense? “I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.”

No, none of this is Nazi Germany or anything close to it. It’s not the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or the sinking of the Maine. It’s just the story of an administration that tried to give itself too much power, and of a Congress that finally found the wisdom to resist.

You hope he doesn’t get destroyed politically for what he said, but it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened.

Joseph, who sent me the story, had another concern:

This is a very bad image for Atheists to have a Muslim Congressman with such extreme views getting applause from atheists.

I don’t think it’s bad at all. The atheists crowd understood what he was saying in regards to 9/11 and they applauded. They weren’t taken in by the media spin.

(***Correction: This event was sponsored by Atheists for Human Rights but that does not mean all the attendees were atheists. It was a public forum open to everyone. So if the media states that the “atheist audience” applauded or supported Ellison’s remarks, it is inaccurate. We simply do not know the religious views of the people who attended the meeting.***)

Ellison had a letter-to-the-editor in Friday’s Star Tribune. He said this:

This past Sunday I spoke to constituents about religious tolerance and the erosion of civil liberties in a post-9/11 America. It is precisely in the aftermath of a tragedy like 9/11 that we must be most vigilant about our precious civil liberties. Unfortunately, some have tried to misconstrue my remarks.

Obviously, Osama bin Laden and the hijackers who carried out the murderous events are responsible for 9/11. The question is, however, how do we respond to this tragedy? With fear and rage? Or with courage and reason?

I’m for courage and reason.

This means that in the aftermath of 9/11, instead of invading Iraq, President Bush should have responded militarily where necessary, but even more so, diplomatically, and with all of our intelligence resources.

If the president had embraced the good will of the post 9/11 world to marshal an international effort to eliminate the terrorist cells responsible for this heinous act, we wouldn’t be mired in a five-year war. We could have effectively eliminated Al-Qaida instead of creating a virtual recruiting station for them in Iraq. As it is, we may need years to shake off the taint of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, FISA violations, Patriot Act encroachments and other Bush administration failures.

And finally, America would still be viewed around the world as the beacon of hope and opportunity — where tolerance, diversity and generosity are celebrated. These are the pillars of our democracy, and they have made and kept us strong at home and abroad throughout our history.

(Thanks to Joseph for the story!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Muslim, Keith Ellison, Edina, Atheists for Human Rights, Star Tribune, Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Scott Muir, Telegraph, Democrat, Reichstag, German, Nazi, Hitler, Mark Drake, Republican, Reason magazine, Kathering Kersten, George Bush, Patriot Act, Osama bin Laden, Rant & Reason, Archduke Ferdinand[/tags]

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I was in London a couple of weeks ago when the failed car bombs were discovered and I saw a few headlines in the paper that said Muslims were speaking out against the terrorists and Islamist extremists. I didn’t get to read the whole stories because I was looking at the paper over other people’s shoulders on the tube. Does anyone know anything about this? I’ve been waiting for the moderate Muslim community to show itself….. the same way I’ve been waiting for the moderate Christians in the US to speak out against the fundamentalists (a few, like Randall Balmer and Pastor Mike who comments on this blog, have been boldly doing so boldly but it doesn’t seem to get into the mainstream press much).

  • Bjorn Watland

    I think Ellison is a pretty gutsy guy. He’s a new congressman, but isn’t biding his time, gaining experience, before being so vocal. Maybe I’m hoping for too much, but maybe he’s more concerned about saying what is right, rather then saying what is safe, and what will get him elected next time around.

    I’m glad he’s my rep!

  • infideljoe

    Quote “The crowd enjoyed his talk. It’s not that often you hear a member of the government say something like this:

    You’ll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want. ”

    Doesn’t sound like a true Muslim. He needs to read his koran again.

    O Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end. – 9:73

    Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal sternly with them. Hell shall be their home, evil their fate. – 66:9

  • Karen

    I was in London a couple of weeks ago when the failed car bombs were discovered and I saw a few headlines in the paper that said Muslims were speaking out against the terrorists and Islamist extremists. I didn’t get to read the whole stories because I was looking at the paper over other people’s shoulders on the tube. Does anyone know anything about this?

    There was definitely an outcry from moderate Muslims in Britain and here in the U.S. condemning that attack, more so than I’ve seen before. Which may mean that the response simply got more publicity this time around. I believe I also read a statement of condemnation released by a U.S. Muslim physicians or health care association.

    Re Ellison: Some political adviser needs to put out a blanket warning to everyone in the public eye never to reference, analogize, mention or compare ANYTHING to the Holocaust, Hitler, the Third Reich, etc.

    It seems like that entire topic has become so incredibly sensitive in the past decade or so that even bringing it up – in any context – is akin to stepping into a sh*t pile five feet deep. And once the reference is out, it gets twisted, misunderstood and repeated ad infinitum until it’s outraged anybody who hears it. Eventually, the person who made the statement has to apologize – not because they originally said anything offensive, but because some people, somewhere, were offended anyway.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Thanks for the info, Karen. I found this artcile on Richard Dawkins’s site today, very interesting:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article2072587.ece

    It concludes:

    I disagree with those who say the pressing problem is simply how do we deal with an aberrant, extreme minority who have unleashed a reign of terror on Britain — rather, I believe the heart of the matter is Islam itself and how its teachings are interpreted. If we isolate the problem to that of the extreme fringe, then we are merely skimming the surface.

    What we Muslims need to do is go back to our books: we need to debate the teachings that are used to radicalise young men and legitimise the killing of innocent people. We need to discuss and refashion the set of rules that govern how Muslims — whose homes and souls are firmly planted in the West — live alongside non-Muslims. Only when we do this can we successfully dissect the radicals’ interpretation of Islam and fight back against terrorism.

    We can no longer turn a blind eye to the driving force behind terror attacks both at home and abroad. It should not matter how painful or embarrassing this admission may be, and nor should it matter how taboo this subject is.

  • Maria

    nice to see more “moderate” Muslism standing up. as for those of you saying he’s not a “true” Muslim-umm haven’t you been wanting moderates to stand up more? so when they do, be glad, and don’t go around saying what they are and aren’t. What do you CARE if he’s a “true” Muslim? be glad he’s got some sense!

  • http://fivepublicopinions.blogspot.com AV

    Doesn’t sound like a true Muslim.

    That should read: doesn’t sound like a true Scotsman.

  • infideljoe

    My statement stands true. He is not a true Muslim, he disregards the extreme teachings of the koran, just as moderate christians disregard the extreme teachings of the bible. They cherry pick the good they find and disregard the bad. True followers of either faith who do exactly as their books tell them, thus the word of god, are violent and intolerant. He’s just a religious guy who uses a little bit of reason to ignore the violent commands from Mohammed.

  • http://fivepublicopinions.blogspot.com AV

    My statement stands true.

    Argument by assertion.

    just as moderate christians disregard the extreme teachings of the bible. They cherry pick the good they find and disregard the bad.

    So I guess that rules out most Catholics and most mainline Protestants–in short, any Christian church that does not adopt a strict literalist interpretation of the Bible is, by your definition, not Christian.

    Now all you have to do is tell me why I should accept your definition of what constitutes a TrueChristian(TM) or a TrueMuslim(TM) as authoritative.

  • Maria

    My statement stands true. He is not a true Muslim, he disregards the extreme teachings of the koran, just as moderate christians disregard the extreme teachings of the bible. They cherry pick the good they find and disregard the bad. True followers of either faith who do exactly as their books tell them, thus the word of god, are violent and intolerant. He’s just a religious guy who uses a little bit of reason to ignore the violent commands from Mohammed.

    Again, why do you CARE? you should be glad. once they start to cherry pick and disregard some parts, it gets easier to eventually realize it can’t be anymore than a human book. that’s what happened to me and several people I know. would you rather they all took their books totally literally? I sure don’t I think I would. If it’s between cherry pickers and literalists I’ll take the cherry pickers thank you very much.

  • infideljoe

    I agree with you Maria. I appreciate the moderates, but I don’t think he represents the majority of muslims. He is a fence sitter, just as some christians are. They are reasonable about not taking their books literally. These people could eventually lose their religion if they just contemplated it a little more. I’m glad we have rationalist religious people, I would just like to see religion go away and be replaced with reason when making judgements about life.

  • monkeymind

    Och, I agree w’ ye, AV. It’s nae the job o’ the atheists to tell a true believer, nae mair than it’s the job o’ the Sassenach to tell a true Scotsman

    Seriously, for all those who think that fundamentalists have the only true interpretation of their holy scriptures, think again. They are picking and choosing which parts to apply to their lives just as much as your “moderates”. When did you last meet a Protestant fundamentalist who had sold all his possessions and had a joint bank account with all the other members of his/her church? Those are pretty clear commands in the New Testament. So please, no more of this tired old chestnut, “at least the fundamentalists follow their holy book.”

    Every decoding (of any text) is another encoding.

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