Monday, July 16, 2007

Rep. Keith Ellison and his recent comments.

The attack dogs on the right have targeted Congressional Representative Keith Ellison (D- Minn) for comments he made in a meeting last week. If you aren't familiar with Ellison, you should know that he is the first avowed Muslim ever to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. When his campaign was victorious in 2006, he faced a rash of suspicion and intolerance from pundits and wingnuts alike. This is unsurprising given the continual assault on our civil rights in the post 9-11, Bush era. Muslims are the new communists, slowly working behind the scenes to undermine our democracy. To get an idea about some of the irrational paranoia, read my previous post about the conservative attempts to and smear Barack Obama. There is no doubt that every word Ellison utters is somewhere being analyzed for hints of betrayal.

Frequent Limbaugh-pinch-hitter Glenn Beck told Ellison in a CNN-interview, "I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' " This was no surprise to anyone who had ever listened to Beck on AM radio. He is (or should be) infamous for suggesting that the razor wire is coming for Muslims who are not lining up to "shoot bad Muslims in the head." Now it should be pointed out (to his credit) that Beck added that such measures are "Nazi, World War II wrong". But his comments are especially ironic in light of the criticism over Ellison's recent speech to a small gathering of atheists in his home district of Minneapolis.

What Ellison actually did was compare the events of 9-11 to the Reichstag fires in 1930's Germany. For those who are unfamiliar with that event, it was the destruction of the German Parliament (the reichstag) that Hitler used to justify implementing emergency powers which allowed him to seize control over the country. Ellison was making a parallel between the erosion of rights during the rise of Nazi Germany and the current political atmosphere in the United States. He was quite specific about pointing out that he wasn't accusing the US government of planning the 9-11 tragedy. He knows damn well that any kind of suggestion of conspiracy will lead to his marginalization by the media. And it's important to note that he didn't directly compare Bush to Hitler, but rather referred to a specific event in history and its ramifications.

But the way Ellison's remarks have been portrayed on AM talk radio are entirely misleading. Kevin Miller of KDKA 1020 says that the Congressman should be sent to "the pokey" for "aid and comfort to our enemies". He is accusing Ellison of treason. How dare anyone suggest a historical analogy for modern events! Obviously that is not covered by our First Amendment's provision of "Free Speech". It makes one wonder what Bush means when he talks about our enemies and their hatred of "our freedoms". It's OK for Glenn Beck to invoke the spectre of Nazi Germany when he is delivering a veiled warning to our nation's Muslim citizens, but quite another for a public official to criticize the current Executive Department's similarities to dictatorships of the past. Instead of a thoughtful examination of Ellison's points, the radical right is attenpting to quell any meaningful discussion by calling for criminal charges against a member of the US Congress.

Perhaps Ellison was mistaken when he likened the current administration's actions to specific decisions made by Hitler prior to WWII. Maybe the invasion of Iraq, the unlawful surveillance of the communications between US citizens, the suspension of habeas corpus for those "suspected" of "terrorism", the torture of military detainees, government abuses sanctioned by the Patriot Act, etc. are more akin to a democratic system than they appear on the surface. It could be that our Founding Fathers would have liked to see the federal government's separation of powers and checks and balances suspended in times of an undefined and indeterminate war. But that's not my understanding of history.

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