Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim-American member of Congress, challenged his audience to take an active role in combating anti-Muslim discrimination by speaking out in favor of the American dream of “liberty and justice for all” during a speech at Harvard Law School yesterday.
“We are in a moment of crisis in democracy in America,” said Ellison in a speech co-sponsored by the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Muslim Law Students’ Association. “What I’m asking you to do is use everything in your power to talk about justice, to talk about inclusion, to talk about who’s included in this country, and to stand up against those people who are saying [Muslims] are not among us and [Muslims] are not welcome.”
Ellison’s speech comes on the heels of recent controversial Congressional hearings led by Republican Congressman Peter T. King of New York on alleged radicalization in the American Muslim community and the Muslim community’s response to extremism. Ellison said he opposes the hearings because they unfairly target one group.
In his talk, Ellison recounted a story he had told during these hearings about Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a young Muslim-American who was a first responder and died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When Hamdani was first reported missing, he was declared a “person of interest,” insinuating that he may have been involved in the attacks in some way.
“Here’s a guy who gave everything anybody could ever give, his life, to try to help his country be safe and yet he and his mother have to fight to be included in phrases like ‘we the people’ or ‘liberty and justice for all,’” Ellison said.
He categorized the hearings as an instance of “demagoguery” where political leaders manipulate fear for their own end of gaining political support.
“The impulse in American politics and in society is to whip up us versus them sentiment to win people to your side,” Ellison said. “[King] is trying to make Americans fearful so they will look to him and for that you need a scapegoat.”
Ultimately, Ellison was optimistic about the future of America as he compared the current struggle of Muslim-Americans to groups in the past who overcome discrimination whether that be Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor or women who were denied the right to vote.
Event attendees said that Ellison provides an important example, especially to the Muslim-American population, of how an individual can engage in government in order to fight for what they believe in.
“His vision of including Muslim-Americans into the dialogue of American and the discourse of America is just incredibly inspiring and gives us a voice within the system,” said Farhan Murshed ’11, a member of the Harvard Islamic Society and one of the event’s organizers. “He’s the anti-hate.”
—Staff writer Monica M. Dodge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.