WASHINGTON — A day before he’s scheduled to be the star witness at a House hearing today on the radicalization of Islam, Rep. Keith Ellison talked Wednesday with MinnPost to give the first detailed preview of what he’ll be saying.
Ellison is the first Muslim member of Congress, and he’ll be testifying today at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee chaired by Peter King, a New York Republican who led the opposition to the so-called Ground Zero Mosque and has spoken out repeatedly against what he says is an unwillingness by U.S. Muslim leaders to confront extremism.
The transcript of that conversation with Ellison, edited only to take out ums and uhs and the like, is below:
MinnPost: The hearing [today] with Peter King… what are you planning to tell him?
Keith Ellison: Three things.
One is that I agree that violent radicalization is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed. That’s why I’ve been working to do it myself in speeches and on numerous occasions.
Second is that focusing on a singular group, particularly a religious minority group, is counterproductive and destructive to the goal of protecting the country. It does a few bad things, one thing it does is that it ignores other threats; Timothy McVeigh, Jared Loughner, neither one of them are Muslim. The person who shot down all those folks at Virginia Tech was not a Muslim — I could go on and on about dangerous people — the people who kill folks at abortion clincs are not Muslim.
The other thing that it does that’s destructive is that it reinforces this narrative — I mean, the terrorists have this argument they make and what is it? That America is at war with Islam. That’s what [Osama] bin Laden says, that’s what Anwar al-Awlaki says. Now, when you have people burning Qurans, that reinforces their narrative. When you have selective hearings against particular minority groups, that reinforces their narrative.
We want to counteract their narrative. America is not at war with any religion, including Islam.
And then, the last thing I want to tell them is that the proper way, if you want to be successful, is to engage the community. Just like Ralph Boelter, who was a special FBI agent in Minnesota, who for four years went out and engaged the [Somali] community, won some friends, got to know people, built relationships, and that is the way to be successful in getting after those people who were recruiting for [Somali terrorist organization] Al-Shabaab.
He built relationships, and people knew that he wasn’t after the community, he was after lawbreakers and people who were trying to lure their children to their deaths.
And so that’s the three things I want to say.
MP: What do you think the takeaway is going to be from this? What’s the purpose of the hearing?
ELLISON: Well that’s for you guys to decide, I mean, but what I hope the takeaway is is that in America, we have a robust debate over these critical issues, and yes it’s true sometimes that people will misuse the gavel, or use it to try to go after a particular religious group…
MP: Is this misusing the gavel?
ELLISON: Yes. It will go after particular religious or racial groups — but there are people who also can speak up and use our right to freedom of speech to correct the record and try to bring a real sensibility to these hearings.
I mean, another great failing of the hearings is that he doesn’t have any law enforcement. I mean, if you want to deal with violent radicalization in the Muslim community, don’t you want to talk to some FBI agents, some U.S. attorneys, some analysts, or people who really looked at this?
He’s just bringing in people who are related to victims, basically — which is important, I don’t want to downplay people whose families have been caught up in this thing or whatever — but I also want to say or emphasize that, you know, this is Congress, right? We make laws here, and if you really want to do some good and do what we can do you really ought to bring in someone who can help us build a policy, and that’s not what he’s doing at all.