Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keith Ellison victim of Islamophobia

Latest attack on Ellison smacks of ‘Red Scare’
By: Charles Hallman
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 10/11/2006

Alleged ‘ties to terrorism’ look like more Islamophopic rhetoric

With less than a month to go before the November 7 general election, the Fifth District congressional race, notable from the outset for its emphasis on personal attacks over issues, appears to be getting nastier still.

Last week, 100,000 voters received a pamphlet from Republican candidate Alan Fine that accuses DFL candidate Keith Ellison of having ties with the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is based in Washington, D.C. It states: “Congressional candidate Keith Ellison has accepted thousands of dollars from the leaders of CAIR — a group that Democrats say has deep ties to terrorism.”

Also included in Fine’s mailing are quotes from U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), both of whom in 2003 accused the group of being connected with terrorists. However, the CAIR website offers many more quotes from elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats, praising the organization (see sidebar).

Fine also states that CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad was a guest speaker at an Ellison fundraiser. The alleged Awad-Ellison connection is featured on a website ( claiming that CAIR “is a clear and present danger to our Constitution and our way of life.”

“I am a mainstream alternative to Keith Ellison, who’s [sic] current and past associations should concern any voter in the Fifth District,” wrote Fine in an October 5 press release attached to the mailing. If elected, Ellison will be the first Black Muslim in Congress.

When asked if Fine or anyone else connected with his campaign ever talked to Awad or other CAIR officials, Fine campaign consultant Chris Tiedeman said they had not, but he nonetheless defended the use of the Schumer and Durbin quotes. “We were merely getting it from two Democrat senators,” Tiedeman said.

MSR tried contacting Awad but was told he was unavailable for comment.

CAIR is “a very successful advocacy group,” and no evidence has been shown otherwise, said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, who called Fine “a desperate candidate” who is using anti-Muslim bias “to promote his own political agenda.”

The organization began documenting anti-Muslim incidents following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the group has been very active tracking the number of American Muslim civil rights complaints.

According to a recent CAIR report, 1,972 complaints of anti-Muslim harassment, violence, and discriminatory treatment were processed in 2005, almost 30 percent more than in 2004. Among the sample cases highlighted in the report:

• A Muslim seventh-grader at a private school in New York was beaten by another student (May 23, 2005). A similar attack was made on a 53-year-old Muslim father of four by a gang of teenagers in the Staten Island area. He later died of his injuries.

• A Hillsborough (Fla.) county commissioner ruled that the Muslim holiday of Ramadan should not be recognized on the school calendar; the commissioner reportedly said that those who do not like “American” holidays should find another place to live (November 3, 2005).

• Two Muslim men in Chicago were stopped by local police, harassed, and arrested without being given any reason why. The arresting officers allegedly used excessive force after they were handcuffed and called them “Bin Laden” and “terrorists” (June 7, 2005).

During the calendar year 2005, over one-quarter of discrimination cases reported to CAIR originated in the workplace, such as:

• A 28-year-old single mother who is Muslim and who worked at a donut shop in Wilmington, Delaware, was told not to report to work wearing her religiously mandated headscarf, or hijab (February 6, 2005).

• A Muslim former employee sued Miller Company for wrongful dismissal after his supervisor asked him if he sympathized with the 9/11 attackers (January 16, 2005).

The CAIR report also said that there have been 153 anti-Muslim hate crime complaints reported in 2005, up from 141 in 2004 (an 8.6 percent increase). Nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for almost 79 percent of all civil rights complaints in 2005, with California (19 percent) and Illinois (13 percent) as the two leading states.

The report concluded that the U.S. Justice Department has investigated more than 600 incidents of backlash since the September 11 attacks and won convictions against 22 of the 27 defendants that it chose to prosecute.

“We believe the biggest factor contributing to anti-Muslim feeling and the resulting acts of bias is the growth in Islamophobic rhetoric that has flooded the Internet and talk radio in the post-9/11 era,” said CAIR Legal Director Arsaian Iftikhar, the report’s author. “Islam-phobia” is reflected in the negative images and buzzwords that produce stereotyping, physical and verbal attacks, along with racial profiling of Muslims of color, including Muslims of African descent. (See the related MSR August 31 story “’Islam-phobia abounds in post 9/11 America.”)

If CAIR is as bad as Fine and others claim, then why have many governmental officials regularly met with them, Hooper asked — including President George Bush, who was photographed with Awad after the September 11 attacks. “I can’t count the number of state delegations that come through our office on a weekly basis,” he said, adding that FBI officials met with CAIR last week “on a variety of issues relating to civil rights in the American Muslim community.”

Throughout his campaign, Fine has constantly repeated that character is a top issue, especially regarding Ellison and his past ties to the Nation of Islam. Tiedeman was quick to point out that “This is not an issue of race and religion, [but] character is an issue.”

However, on the issue of character, the October 7 Star Tribune ran a front-page story reporting that Fine was charged with domestic violence in 1995; his record was expunged nine years later. Also reported was that five domestic disturbance 911 calls to Minneapolis police have come from Fine’s residence from 1995 to April 2005. Fine told the newspaper that he is innocent.

Fine’s recent mailing is reminiscent of the 1950s “Red Scare,” when many U.S. citizens were accused of being communists — just substitute the word “terrorist.” Has he now resorted to using scare tactics so that Fifth District voters will select him over Ellison? Tiedeman insists not, but Hooper disagrees and calls the act “part of the [political] game.”

“I think it’s a tactic of fear,” agreed Ken Foxworth, Democratic National Committee Black Caucus deputy chairman. “We should be talking about the high rate of crime and economic development in our community. Let’s talk about [the] present and not old news.”

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