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Florida Republican Rep.: Ellison represents ‘antithesis’ of USA’s founding principles

WASHINGTON — A freshman Republican from Florida hit out at Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, saying in response to a question about his faith that Ellison “really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.”

Think Progress transcribed the relevant bit of an interview Rep. Allen West had with The Shalom Show’s Richard Peritz. The clip is viewable here:


The transcript:

PERITZ: Since you’re with a new crowd, people you haven’t really met before, and will be very closely associating with in the future, including Keith Ellison, who supports Islam, how will you manage that, if I may ask, because it’s not really easy to be polite with individuals one totally disagrees with, which I believe may be the case.

WEST: Well I think it’s most important that I stand upon the principles that people elected me to go to Washington, DC and represent them on Capitol Hill. So that when you run into someone that is counter, or someone that really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established, you’ve got to be able to defeat them intellectually in debate and discourse, and you to just have to be able to challenge each and every one of their assertions very wisely and very forthright.

Make what you will of West’s comments, but as a matter of simple historical fact he’s flat wrong. The Library of Congress published a detailed memo on this topic in 2002, and I’d encourage anyone interested to read it in full. The summation of that analysis:

The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life.

Update: Ellison responded in a statement:

I was surprised to hear of Congressman West’s comments because he has never expressed these sentiments to me directly. Contrary to the views expressed by Congressman West, I work to represent the highest ideals of our great nation – Ideals like freedom of worship and respect for all faiths, equal protection under the law as well as a civil and open public discourse. I call on Americans of all colors, cultures and faiths to turn to each other, not on each other, especially in the renewed spirit of finding a more respectful and productive public dialogue. Americans across the country want their public servants to reject the toxic and corrosive chatter that yields more heat than light. I hope to have a productive and respectful dialogue with all of my colleagues, including Allen West.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Joey White on 01/24/2011 - 07:50 pm.

    The correlation to Ellison here was made by Peritz, not Allen. Allen seems to be responding to Pertiz’s question about dealing with people he disagrees with in general, and that includes a lot more people than just Ellison. West’s comment was very general.

    I expect to see this sort of twisting of words on left wing outposts like Think Progress, Huffington Post, or Democratic Underground (all of which have reported it). West’s statement was certainly poorly worded, but from what the video shows, it was hardly aimed at Ellison. The way this story was written though, you sure wouldn’t know that.

    The way this story was framed is really, really disappointing. No wonder politicians walk on eggshells whenever they talk.

  2. Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/25/2011 - 12:13 am.

    I’m proud that it is Representative Ellison who is from Minnesota. Too bad for the citizens in Florida, who’s representative doesn’t understand the First Amendment’s central importance to our freedom

  3. Submitted by Kyle Edwards on 01/25/2011 - 09:46 am.


    If not Congressman Ellison, who represents the “antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established…” in Congressman West’s opinion?

  4. Submitted by Joey White on 01/25/2011 - 10:34 am.

    Kyle, I’m not suggesting that Ellison wasn’t grouped into West’s comment, but his comment certainly wasn’t specific to Ellison at all. Peritz used Ellison as one example of a greater group of people.

    Some argue that by West not refuting the Ellison correlation, he was agreeing with him. However, political interviews often contain questions that are are loaded with more than just a simple question. I don’t exactly expect a respondent to pick apart each piece of the question and say, “Well, I agree with this portion and not that portion.” They typically try to pick up on the general question being asked and then respond (or in many cases, talk about something relatively unrelated to the actual question).

    I hope West clarifies his remarks. He certainly should clarify them.

    But here’s what Wallbank’s article states:

    “…saying in response to a question about his faith that Ellison ‘really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.'”

    Wallbank implies that West was specifically saying that Ellison represents the antithesis of our country’s principles. He’s implying that the question was all about Ellison’s faith. That’s just not true.

    (This whole thing reminds me of the accusations from the right that Obama was somehow unpatriotic because he didn’t put his hand on his heart during the national anthem at an Iowa event.)

    Peritz’s question included Ellison as an example of a much larger group of people, asking him how he intends to work with people with whom he disagrees on any number of issues. All indication from the transcript is that West was responding to how he intends to deal with people with whom he disagrees in general, not Ellison specifically or on the subject of Islam in particular.

    To assign West’s quote as being specific to Ellison in the manner in which Wallbank did is really a stretch and does a disservice to MinnPost readers. Seeing the regurgitation of a story from a liberal outpost like Think Progress is no better than seeing something repeated from Red State. There’s always more to the story than the left and right communicate and I would expect MinnPost (and any other news organization) to cut through that.

  5. Submitted by Eric T on 01/25/2011 - 01:42 pm.

    I don’t really think your argument is very convincing. You’re saying that Peritz’s question wasn’t specific to Ellison, but was more generally referencing people that one disagrees with. But it seem that Peritz was referring to “disagreements” on religious grounds. Quote:

    “including Keith Ellison, who supports Islam”

    And, West was on a talk show that promotes a certain religious life and the achievements of a certain religious group. Given the wording and context, your interpretation of West’s response is pretty liberal.

    Although it’s true that politicians often get loaded questions, but Peritz’s question wasn’t that tricky. It was a bait, but it wasn’t tricky. To a lot of reasonable American people, the question would’ve automatically made them cringe, because what does supporting Islam have anything to do with anything. But, if you think the founding principles of the country is based on the Abrahamic god, then the question wouldn’t give you pause, and his answer seems to support that.

    Just because the story is carried on left-wing media doesn’t mean it’s automatically false. My interpretation of what Congressman West doesn’t change because of who is carrying the story.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/26/2011 - 01:07 pm.

    I searched Allen West’s name and found that he is a retired Lt. Colonel who was allowed by the Army to retire with full benefits after firing his pistol next to an Iraqi’s ear to get him to give information. He ran as a Republican and was backed by the Tea Party in this election.

    At his web site, he says, “Make no mistake, we are a nation at war against a totalitarian theocratic political ideology that glorifies death rather than celebrating life. From Afghanistan and Iraq to the Greater Middle East and South America, radical Islam is on the march.”

    He is described by as a “Christian supremacist,” which notes also that he “is a staunch hater of Islam and a bigoted racist against Arabs.”

    And there, apparently, we have his opinion of Keith Ellison and all Muslims and his somewhat inadequate understanding of both the First Amendment and Islam.

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