By Hiba Haque, Detroit
First Muslim Congressman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has been in the spotlight lately, ever since his compelling testimony at the hearing on ‘The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,’ held last Thursday, March 10.
Republican Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee decided to hold the hearing, the fist in a series investigating the American Muslim population, whom he has accused of non-cooperation with law-enforcement officials. In particular, Peter King has laid blame on groups such as CAIR, for supposedly encouraging people not to cooperate with the FBI.
There is no doubt that violent extremism is a serious concern to all Americans, as Rep. Keith Ellison mentioned, but this approach by the Committee in trying to handle it was not only ‘contrary to American values’, but also lacked justification of the Committee’s major arguments.
Perhaps the only thing of substance King managed to assert was that rare cases of ‘radicalization’ have occurred in the American Muslim community, presenting 2 witnesses who had seen it happen to their close relatives.
Did the hearing prove that American Muslims at large, and civil rights groups such as CAIR are not doing their best to cooperate with the FBI in curbing these attacks? Absolutely not, as Sherriff Leroy Baca, the only law-enforcement official (invited by the Democrats) present at the hearing testified.
CAIR’s education to citizens on their basic right to seek legal counsel when questioned by the FBI, was deviously implied as ‘non-cooperation’ by most of the Republicans and a Muslim doctor present at the hearing.
The hearing was neither backed by statements from any expert who had extensively researched the case for radicalization, nor was there the necessary testimony of law enforcement officials to justify King’s accusations in the first place. Anecdotes and personal ‘opinions’ about Muslims are not sufficient or factual evidence to use for making policies.
Rep. Keith Ellison Addresses American-Muslim Community Following the Hearing
However, the hearing was not completely futile, as Rep. Keith Ellison reminded us at his talk at IAGD (Islamic Association of Greater Detroit) last Saturday, organized by CAIR-MI.
The Muslim community in Detroit was honored to have his presence just two days after his compelling testimony at the hearing, in which he expressed his deepest concern for the American Muslim population; a community that has been a continuous target of hate-attacks since 9/11.
In fact, the hearing has made us aware of the great importance of our continuous political engagement, and involvement with the Congress. Rep. Keith Ellison is a shining example and model for the Muslim community who has shown how far one’s call for social justice and equality can reach with efforts in the right direction.
Congressman Ellison does not just defend the rights and freedom of the Muslim community alone, but always speaks for the rights of all religious and ethnic groups in the nation.
Rep. Ellison spoke of how ‘Islamophobic’ attacks did not even spare people of other faiths, such as in the case of Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA). When asked his opinion about the proposed mosque at Park 51, Rep. Braley spoke in favor of religious diversity as rooted in the Constitution, and said people should be “promoting religious worship as a place where people can get their spiritual needs met.” He also stated that it was a ‘local zoning issue’ not for him to decide. Following his statement, accusatory headlines splashed the papers, and a television ad began running, attempting to defame Rep. Braley for not denouncing the mosque. It appears that hate groups tolerate none who attempt to counter their bigoted propaganda.
“Every religious minority’s rights were on the line at the hearing,” said Rep. Keith Ellison. If the Committee felt that stigmatizing the Muslim community was somehow justified, the same could happen to Christians, Jews, or other religious groups the next day. We must stand up for everyone’s right to practice their own faith, Rep. Ellison told us.
reminded us of the Constitution of Medina that was drafted by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and how it acknowledged the equal political and cultural rights of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina, and their freedom of religion, bringing all within the fold of one community. We must also remember when Prophet Muhammad promised to protect the Christians at Mt. Sinai. He wrote, “those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.”
Religious tolerance and inclusion are key aspects of our faith, and the same values are encouraged by the US Constitution.
We must positively utilize the freedom of expression given to us in this country, and remind the country what it should be about, Rep. Ellison pointed out.
When asked to comment on CAIR, Rep. Ellison said that it was one of the most vocal and effective organizations, that operates well within the law, and cooperates with law enforcement officials. If there was anything wrong with it, it would have been shut down by now. An attack on CAIR is like saying the FBI is not doing their job, Rep. Ellison indicated.
Of course, Rep. Ellison also stressed on the fact that acts of terrorism must be rejected as being immoral and wrong. And those who erroneously justify it on ‘religious’ grounds, do so solely based on political motives.
The hearing was positive for Muslims in some ways. It showed that American Muslims are patriotic and organized, as Rep. Ellison said, and made us aware of the importance of civic engagement. He acknowledged the overwhelming support from his colleagues at the hearing, both Democrats and Republicans, and was even thankful to Rep. Peter King for allowing him the opportunity to present his testimony.
Effective Political Participation of our Community
Also present at CAIR-MI’s event was a well-regarded political consultant who guided the audience on the importance of effective political engagement of the Muslim community.
It is common for us and our families to be present at cultural community events, but when it comes to integral community events such as political fundraisers or community businesses’ gatherings, we show a lack of interest and support.
“Don’t you bring any brown people?” the speaker was once asked by a lady at one of his regular Chamber of Commerce gatherings. Involvement and representation in politics and business is vital to our progress as a community.
We must ‘engage with others and not just talk about our own issues’, the speaker noted. Get involved in charity work with interfaith organizations for instance; do something outside of your own group.
“Organization is in our DNA,” he said, and “political organization is no different”. The importance of voting and being politically active goes without saying. It is an absolute obligation for us to support public officials and interact with society.
You may ask, “why give money to political stuff?” the speaker said; because it is the only way we’ll get to see people from our side being represented in politics. “If you believe in the system, you have to support it.”
He advised us to show up and to contribute at political fundraisers, as we are the ‘stockholders of the community.’
“Unity happens incrementally,” he reminded the audience, and shared tips on how to bring in people to participate in political campaigns.
Social media is an essential tool, as is making phone calls and asking others to invite their friends. We must encourage and appreciate others’ time and contribution, however much it may be, and focus on the amount of support gained.
Parents play an important role in political activism, the speaker informed us. If parents don’t vote, their children may reach the age of 35 before they consider voting. And if parents do vote, their children would more likely start to vote soon after turning 21.
As immigrants especially, if we don’t take the initiative to participate and ask others to, it just won’t pick up as it should.
Another point the notable political strategist mentioned were to engage with newspaper reporters. If you differ from their point of view, let them know, and ask questions. However, when speaking or writing, be mindful of your language and emotions. Especially when countering hateful Islamophobic attacks, frustration can get in the way and will only make it difficult for others to understand your point of view.
The panel present at this event included CAIR-MI Executive Director Imam Dawud Walid, Congressman Rep. Keith Ellison, and CAIR-MI Legal Advocacy Chair, Haaris Ahmad.
As all of CAIR-MI’s valuable events that educate and inform the public, this event reminded us about the importance of activism in our community, and especially of our engagement in politics. Thanks to CAIR-MI, the Muslim community in Detroit was fortunate to have met with the honorable Rep. Keith Ellison, who holds a powerful voice in Congress for the American Muslim community, and stands as a model for us all.