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:
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.