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A bipartisan wave of Islamophobia

By Elizabeth Schulte | January 5, 2007 | Pages 1 and 2

MEMBERS OF Congress are stoking racism against Muslims and Arabs. And it isn't only right-wing Republicans--one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate stands guilty of promoting Islamophobia.

The Republicans have a new target for their bigotry in newly elected Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison--the first Muslim ever elected to Congress and the first African American from the state.

Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) went after Ellison when Ellison--a criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam in college--said that he planned to place his hand on the Koran during a congressional swearing-in ceremony in January.

Ellison's decision was publicized by right-wing radio host Dennis Prager, who wrote in his blog, "Neither I nor tens of millions of other Americans will watch in silence as the Bible is replaced with another religious text for the first time since George Washington brought a Bible to his swearing-in."

Goode then declared, "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing-In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way."

Goode, who also supports building a "security fence" on the border with Mexico and making English the official language, went on to condemn not just of Islam but all immigrants.

"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," Goode wrote in a letter sent to hundreds of Virginia voters.

One detail that apparently escaped Goode is that Ellison isn't an immigrant. "I'm an African-American," said Ellison, who traces his American ancestors back to 1742. "I'm about as American as they come."

"I'm a little incredulous about why anyone would care about what I'm going to swear on," Ellison said to a recent gathering in Detroit. "In fact, if I swore on a book that wasn't of my tradition...would you trust me?"

Since his election in November, Ellison says he has received threatening phone calls and e-mails and death threats--the latest example of the frenzy of suspicion and hatred aimed at Muslims in the name of the "war on terror."

But Republican wing-nuts aren't the only ones in on the witch-hunt. Last month, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) decided to take back an award she had given to an Islamic activist after conservatives complained that he belonged to an organization that supported so-called "terrorist activities."

In December, Sacramento activist Basim Elkarra received a "certificate of accomplishment" from Boxer. But when Boxer discovered that Elkarra was a local official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)--the leading Muslim-American civil rights organization in the country--she took the award back.

Boxer also told her staff to tell CAIR to remove a previous statement she had made endorsing CAIR from the group's Web site. In November, Boxer sent a letter to CAIR on its 10th anniversary, claiming "[a]s an advocate for justice and greater understanding, CAIR embodies what we should all strive to achieve."

Now, Boxer says that she never saw that letter--nor knew about the award to Elkarra before it was sent out.

CAIR officials say that Boxer is responding to claims by right-wing blogger Joe Kaufman--who regularly appears on the Web site of conservative witch-hunter David Horowitz--that CAIR members are connected to terrorism.

"We feel that the same crowd who is pushing these smears against CAIR is the same crowd as the neocons that pushed us into the Iraq war," CAIR's Nihad Awad told Newsweek. "They are trying to smear the Muslim community, and they are trying to silence its voice. This takes us back to the McCarthy era."

Horowitz was thrilled at the result. "I'm pleased that Boxer listened to us," Horowitz said. "The fact that Democrats are finally waking up is good."

We have to oppose these scapegoaters--Republicans and Democrats alike.

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