Reject the political Muslim-bashing smears

Oct 20

Minnesota Star Tribune

Parvez Ahmed and Nihad Awad

There has been much sound and fury in certain circles about the American Muslim community’s support for Keith Ellison and his campaign to represent Minnesota‘s Fifth Congressional District.

A handful of right-wing bloggers, agenda-driven commentators and political operatives have used scurrilous smear tactics in an attempt to derail his campaign and to marginalize American Muslim voters. These smears and distortions send an un-American message of intolerance and bigotry.

We are proud of our personal donations to Ellison’s campaign. He has proven himself to be an effective legislator and his commitment to social justice is worthy of admiration. We believe his election will send a powerful message to the world about America‘s commitment to religious inclusion and tolerance.

No one should be vilified merely for exercising their rights as an American citizen. Yet attacks on Ellison fit a disturbing pattern of Muslim-bashing that has been seen nationwide this campaign season.

In New York, Rep. Peter King tarred the vast majority of mosques in his state and nationwide as being run by “radicals.” In California, a Muslim candidate for the Anaheim City Council is labeled “anti-American” by his Republican opponents. In Wisconsin, a candidate for Congress questioned about his call for profiling of Muslims suggested looking for anyone who is “wearing a turban and his name is Muhammad.”

We understand the fear some Americans have of all things Muslim and Islamic. We hear these fears when visiting temples, synagogues and churches. We see the fear in people’s eyes when we board an aircraft.

The current wave of terror committed in the name of Islam by a tiny minority of misguided individuals makes it all too easy to attack Islam and stereotype Muslims. Yet a look beyond the violent headlines reveals a more complex situation.

When churches in the Occupied Territories were vandalized, apparently in reaction to comments on Islam by Pope Benedict, major Muslim organizations condemned the violence and reached out for dialogue. Our organization also raised money to repair the damaged churches.

At the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), we are proud of our record of promoting interfaith understanding. We are also proud of our commitment to peace and our repeated condemnations of terrorism in all its forms, whether carried out by individuals, groups or states.

A CAIR statement released on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 said: “As American Muslims … we will not allow terrorist groups like Al-Qaida to be the voice of Muslims or the representation of Islam to the rest of the world.”

Other CAIR antiterror initiatives include our “Not in the Name of Islam” online petition, signed by hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and the Islamic religious ruling (fatwa) repudiating religious extremism and violence (see

When President Bush visited a Washington, D.C., mosque immediately after the 9/11 attacks, he met with a CAIR official. Over the years, CAIR representatives have been in numerous discussions about our nation’s affairs with Condoleezza Rice, Al Gore, Karen Hughes, Bill Clinton, and any number of other top government officials. CAIR officials have also been invited by the FBI to participate in its press conferences.

In a desperate bid to boost sagging poll numbers, an Ellison opponent sent campaign materials to voters smearing him as being linked to terrorism, all because he accepted donations from Muslims like us.

This type of guilt by association has been tried in the past. Fortunately, the vast majority of Americans rejected such tactics when the “other” of the day included Catholics, Irish immigrants, Jews or Asians.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We are clearly living at a time of challenge and controversy. In a campaign as important as this one, and in a time as trying as ours, it is perfectly acceptable to challenge the ideas and policy positions of any candidate. But smears, distortions and unfounded guilt by association are un-American and should be firmly rejected by people of conscience.

In endorsing Ellison, the American Jewish World wrote: “Voters could make an emphatic statement — one that would gain national and international attention — by casting their ballots for Keith Ellison.”

The election of an African-American Muslim supported by Muslims, Christians and Jews will be among the finest displays of American democracy — one that will reverberate across the globe.

Parvez Ahmed is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. Nihad Awad is CAIR’s national executive director.

Leave a Reply