Thursday, December 21, 2006

Which Traditional Values and Beliefs Are We Preserving?

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Virgil H. Goode, Jr., Republican member of Congress from Virginia, believes that Americans who practice the Muslim faith should not be permitted to hold public office:

In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, ... [Goode] warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation's traditional values.

Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison's plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said.

In his letter, which was dated Dec. 5, Mr. Goode said that Americans needed to "wake up" or else there would "likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

"I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped," said Mr. Goode, who vowed to use the Bible when taking his own oath of office.

Mr. Ellison's response was remarkably restrained:

Mr. Ellison dismissed Mr. Goode's comments, saying they seemed ill informed about his personal origins as well as about Constitutional protections of religious freedom. "I'm not an immigrant," added Mr. Ellison, who traces his American ancestors back to 1742. "I'm an African-American."

Since the November election, Mr. Ellison said, he has received hostile phone calls and e-mail messages along with some death threats. But in an interview on Wednesday, he emphasized that members of Congress and ordinary citizens had been overwhelmingly supportive and said he was focusing on setting up his Congressional office, getting phone lines hooked up and staff members hired, not on negative comments.

"I'm not a religious scholar, I'm a politician, and I do what politicians do, which is hopefully pass legislation to help the nation," said Mr. Ellison, who said he planned to focus on secular issues like increasing the federal minimum wage and getting health insurance for the uninsured.

"I'm looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him," Mr. Ellison said, speaking by telephone from Minneapolis. "I want to let him know that there's nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors and many different cultures in America is a great strength."

Michael van der Galien makes the excellent point that comments like Goode's increase anti-American feeling among Muslims worldwide:

Some people should ask themselves this question every now and then: how will the world perceive this? You can bet on it that this will get attention in the Muslim world (and more generally Muslims worldwide), once they find out about it. More importantly, perhaps, what about Muslims living in the U.S.? If Ellison would have a history of extremism, criticism like this could be justified. However, this being not so, the only result of the seeming 'controversy', is that American Muslims will -- rightfully perhaps -- feel alienated.

One wonders at the silence of the usual right-wing voices who are so quick to criticize when the media reports atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq -- Abu Ghraib, for example; or the civilian massacre at Haditha, or the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl along with the murder of her entire family. It's the fact that these horrors are publicized that offends those right-wing voices -- not the horrors themselves.

Why not the same outrage at a U.S. member of Congress making bigoted remarks about a new congressional representative, solely because that representative is Muslim? Doesn't that give the Islamic world fodder for anti-American hatred, and thus endanger national security?

As for those "traditional values and beliefs" Mr. Goode is so concerned about preserving: Which would those be? These values? Or these?

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