Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Keith Ellison on religion and politics

We wait with bated breath for something more than these airy generalities from Keith Ellison, who, as you surely know, is our first Muslim Congressman.

Surely if hard questions can be posed to Mitt Romney and if deep suspicions about theocracy can be raised every time a conservative Christian speaks, we’re entitled to know exactly how Ellison’s faith informs his politics.

What, for example, does he mean by this:

"You can’t back down. You can’t chicken out. You can’t be afraid. You got to have faith in Allah, and you’ve got to stand up and be a real Muslim."

Or how about this:

Ellison, speaking at the annual convention of the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America, said that Muslims can help teach America about justice and equal protection.


"Muslims, you’re up to bat right now," he said. "How do you know that you were not brought right here to this place to learn how to make this world better?"

And then there’s this, from a speech to an interfaith group:

Ellison added that religion should be something that unites, rather than divides.


"Many people see their religion as an identity thing, much in the same way Crips or Bloods might say, ’I’m this, this is the set I’m rolling with,’ " Ellison said, referring to the infamous street gangs.


"They’ve never actually tried to explore how religion should connect us, they’re into how religion divides us. ... They haven’t really explored ... how my faith connects me to you."

Many of the practical positions he has taken seem to be those of a garden-variety liberal Democrat, but he should be pressed to show how those positions flow from what he says is his faith.

If he can make a plausible argument, perhaps we should applaud him and encourage to speak out, not just to his fellow Americans, but to Muslims all over the world, demonstrating to them how they can make their peace with liberal pluralism.

In other words, he, no more than anyone else, should simply be given a free pass, claiming, as he does, that his faith informs his politics. And he should be pressed on the passages from the Koran that are hard for non-Muslims and liberals to swallow. And he should be pressed to take a stand anytime any Muslim anywhere makes any sort of bloodcurdling statement. Let Ellison condemn them, quite publicly.

This is an opportunity for someone who calls on others to "stand up and be a real Muslim," which presumably means he’ll do so himself.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Isn’t it wiser to simply give him softballs and a free pass? Don’t we know apriori that he is already tripped up?

Sometimes you want someone to call a spade a heart. It seems more probable that Mitt Romney could square his views with mormonism...much more probable...if it was an impossible task then one would have to ask what could be gainned by emphasizing it. Unless you are simply going to ask the hard questions and then nod and agree with the deflected or long roundabout answers, as if the question was ever answered...which seems foolish...but tends to work sometimes. The truth of the matter is that the only ones who stand to gain by holding politicians to Ontological commitments...are the logician intelligensia who formulate what consistent application should yield. In the end the only reason for deep suspicion of Christian theocracy, is that Christianity has worked itself out so that only a suspicion exists. With Islam it is ridiculous to pretend that there is a suspicion. If I know something then I do not suspect it. Suspicion is a thing that exists best on marginal evidence. To give a poker analogy christianity is more like thinking someone is bluffing, with Islam it is as if the cards are played face up. If you think someone is bluffing but you aren’t sure you raise them to get a feel for where you are at. If on the other hand one is dealing with a muslim, one should let them bet contrary to what they have because there is no way one can be fooled in the first place. If they are drawing dead, why would you want to push them out of the pot?

It should be plain as day that a lot of the critique and fear of christian theocracy is actually due to seeing Islam’s cards face up.

I really don’t think I want to encourage people to be good muslims in the same way that I want to encourage people to be good Christians. I am marginally to the point where I don’t think you want to Socratically interogate most christians...but in the end it might be profitable because there seems to be very little potential for disaster. I am far beyond a pale shadow of doubt when it comes to Islam that this is a horrific idea. In other words...I am not sure I want my politicians to be good christians...but I am certain that I don’t want them to be good muslims...but you can’t really say this...and it isn’t profitable for me to even say this much. Hypothetically if I were running for office and it wouldn’t hurt my chances to claim Islam...I would do so in order to subvert by example(although I don’t think I could be credible enough...but supposing that I could be credible...) And if you asked me difficult questions about my competing faiths? I should not answer you what you already know and others might not...Like a good poker player a politician wants to be held good by many standards because at times one wants to be able to represent a pocket pair or an ace or a flush or a straight as the circumstances/flop should dictate. Don’t call out those who are bluffing admirably.


Let’s interrogate both the Christian and the Muslem as to the true meaning of their teachings.
And let the best faith win! Right?


Then the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me, "Take from my hand this cup filled to the brim with my anger, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them." (Jeremiah 25:15-16 NLT)

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

"As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you. But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of nations nearby. "As for the towns of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing in them. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. This will keep the people of the land from teaching you their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God." Deuteronomy 20:10-18 NLT

Ellison lied his way into office, fabricating a false record on his long involvement with the Nation of Islam, anti-Semitism and defending cop-killers.

Usually, congressmen wait to assume office before commiting crimes. but not Mr. al Assan. His first public act as a Congressman-elect was conspiring to conduct an act of faux-terrorism with the Flying Imams. Newt is right--they should be charged. Including the Congressman.

I don’t have a problem with him using the Koran. Indeed, you’d swear many congressmen took their oaths on The Bartender’s Guide, The Origin of the Species, The Kinsey Report, Silent Spring or Das Kapital.

The problem is that he doesn’t mean a word of it.

Reading his pedestrian, cliche-ridden quotes, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever take any stand of any substance, but simply stick to comfortable, noncommittal generalities. All in all, it seems unfair to expect overmuch from a bear of such small brain.

You should demand the same of every congressman, and of our president, who is known to believe in the Rapture, an incident he is uniquely qualified to usher in.

Or maybe the founding fathers were right, and there should be a seperation of church and state, starting with the idea that we don’t interrogate people on their religious beliefs and instead judge them on their actions.

I dimly recall something about no religious test ever being required for office under the United States.

That being said, if mobs of crazed Third Order Franciscans were cutting the throats of women who entered churches without sleeves and veils, I would expect Catholic politicians to say something against it, and I somehow doubt that excuses for it of any stripe would be offered.

Daniel K.,

The "founders" did not promulgate the "separation of church and state." Jefferson did, but only in the context of establishment. That’s a latter-day "separation" gloss that’s caused a great deal of confusion. The founders rightly prohibited the establishment of a state religion and the requirement of a religious "test" for public office, meaning that adherents to a particular religious practice would be summarily barred by statute from public office, as many non-conformists (non-Anglicans) were in England and the colonies. A religious "test" does NOT mean, however, that a person’s religion--and how that religion’s specific tenets might play out in their public duties--is outside the limits of public discourse. One might ask Mr. Ellison, for example, how he reconciles Shariah law with the Constitution and which one he holds supreme. When he takes the oath on the Koran to "protect and defend the Constitution" this is an odd juxtaposition, to put it mildly, given what the Koran requires of believers and the supremacy of Shariah. Look at most Muslim countries if you want to see what a "religious test" looks like. Instead of asking Ellison these tough questions, most people are too polite to interrupt this particular diversity theater production.

The quotes do make Ellison sound like an idiot. But that’s nothing new, especially for Congressmen. I’ve heard Ralph Regula, a veteran lawmaker, say that he judges the economy based on how many trucks he sees on the road...

Joe - Thanks for that "bated breath." I would have spelled it wrong, not remembering ever having seen the phrase in print before.

Paul - I am reading Hamburger’s "Separation of Church and State". If you have read it, what did you think of it?

Paul, the bible endorses stoning adulterers, never mixing meat and milk, and smiting the Egyptians. Why do we not question Christian politicians on these points?

Dan...we don’t question christians on those points because it would be ridiculous to do so. I also think it is somewhat ridiculous to question Ellison. Obviously Ellison is a politician(which means it could be ridiculous to believe his answers or interpret them at face value)... he might be a sincere muslim or he might not... personally I would feel better if he were not...but in the end I think he is a nouveau Muslim. He sounds like a french politician...In other words Ellison represents the optimistic trajectory of an Islamic Europe. Ellison is the face of modern Islam. If every muslim was like Ellison I would drink a toast to the end of history. In other words if Dick Stanley is right...I am happy. If Dr. Knippenburg gets a man of religious principle and theological depth...I am unhappy.

A bit of reinforcement for the idea that Ellison is two bricks shy of a load: The Koran he swore on, according to http://www.altmuslim.com/perm.php?id=1849_0_24_0_M, belonged to Thomas Jefferson, but the translation "calls the Prophet Muhammad a ’criminal... imposing a false religion’" Probably not what Ellison intended.

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