Keith Ellison’s Tears And Epistemic Closure

Rep. Peter King’s hearings on “radicalization” of the American Muslim community, and his contention that the community doesn’t cooperate with law enforcement, was both a waste of time and tax dollars. The affair didn’t produce a single insight into the actual and urgent issue of radicalization and extremism.

If King expected to come out of hearings as some sort of hero, he failed. Two of his witnesses offered largely anecdotal evidence which didn’t support the premise of his hearings and another embarrassingly implied that only people who have something to hide seek legal counsel.

Los Angeles County Sherriff Lee Baca reiterated yet again the point that the Muslim community in Los Angeles has done a lot to help his agency combat all sorts of crime, a point that undermines the case that Muslims have adopted some sort of ‘stop snitchin’ mentality.

The undisputed hero of the day was Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, who stole the headlines away from King after offering an emotional testimony in which he shed tears recounting the story of a dead 9/11 responder who some accused of being in on the conspiracy for the simple fact that he was Muslim.

Hearings that were supposed to make the country suspicion of their brown-skinned doctors and cab drivers actually produced the opposite result. The story Ellison recounted stole the show and whatever anti-Muslim narrative some of the hearing’s biggest supporters were hoping for, went with it.

That couldn’t stand. Some sort of controversy had to be manufactured to put the narrative back on the right. Ace conservative reporters took to the task of looking for that controversy. Naturally, their first tool was Google. The National Review Online’s Matthew Shaffer took to the internet, found that only one newspaper backed up Ellison’s story and concluded in a piece that the Congressman was a bigot. Wait, what?

Follow the logic here. After doing some searching around on the internet, Shaffer could only find a New York Post article that cast suspicion on the 9/11 hero. Therefore, Ellison was wrong. No, in fact, he is a bigot. Because the testimony he gave wasn’t backed up by much proof.

The problem, of course, is that had Shaffer used LexisNexis, he would have seen that other media outlets had in fact reported on the issue, including the New York Times and the New Yorker. After these other articles were brought to his attention, he issued a correction. In typical conservative style, however, he did so by attacking those who asked him to be set the record straight.

The damage, however, had already been done. The original article was picked up by other conservative sites, including by some of the vilest, most contemptible people on the face of the planet. Rep. Louie Gohmert, of terror baby fame, actually read the article on the House floor. In less than 24 hours, a lie created by a lazy writer became the narrative that was being used to discredit Ellison. The lie is now part of the Congressional Record.

The next hatchet job was by the Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle. Boyle’s piece actually makes less sense the Shaffer’s. The article is billed as an exclusive but it seems that it’s only exclusive in the sense that only an exclusive number of brainless and logically-impaired people would actually make the argument that Boyle is making.

Boyle charges that the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Muslim advocacy group, gave House democrats talking points to use during the King hearings. In order for this to be a story, you need to ask two important questions: First, Is there something wrong with an advocacy group briefing lawmakers? The answer is obvious. But since the group is a Muslim group, this very routine practice of giving lawmakers talking points is some nefarious conspiracy.

The second question. Did the lawmakers actually use the talking points? Boyle asks the people involved and they all deny any coordination. Ellison, who Boyle says “regurgitated all the MPAC talking points” denies that he even received the memo. At this point, the story is dead.

But being the enterprising reporter that he is, Boyle investigates some more. He sees similarities between this leaked memo and some of the questions that Democratic members of the committee raised. At this point, he once again has a story. If lawmakers echoed an advocacy group’s talking points word for word, it might interest some people. But that didn’t happen. So Boyle concludes that when Rep. Al Green brought up the KKK, it was clearly because of the fact that the MPAC memo told lawmakers to suggest that the hearings hurt our national security.

The fact that Al Green is the son of a Christian minister, and most likely has some knowledge of the KKK, as well as the fact that he has a large Muslim constituency in Houston, isn’t why he bought up the KKK. It was because MPAC told him to do so by suggesting to lawmakers to highlight the threat that the hearings posed to national security.

Every single point that Boyle sees as possible collaboration is actually a point that the editors of some of the largest newspapers in the country made. Whatever memo MPAC might have been spreading likely contained the same language as the memo of every other group opposed to the hearings. Those opposed to the hearings had a very coordinated message. That’s one reason why the hearing produced nothing of substance.

That bothers conservatives a lot.

The Washingtons Post’s Dana Milibank has, in my opinion, written the absolute best piece on the hearings.


Exploring The Idea Of The “Intolerant Muslim”

In his column today, the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat takes Comedy Central and others to task for censoring depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.  Douthat sees a double standard afoot, pointing out that while our sensibilities are routinely satirized, “Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.”  Phil Donahue and Sinéad O’Connor no doubt will find that statement astonishing.

Douthat is, of course, wrong.  Not only has it become acceptable to attack Islam and vilify Muslims, but xenophobia directed at the community has become commonplace and in some places, rampant.  These days, it’s not unusual for Muslims to be referred to as barbarians.  Anti-Islam/Muslim books are New York Times bestsellers.  Prominent Christian groups have called for American-Muslims to be deported.  Others want Muslims barred from serving their country.  The term “Islamo-fascism” is as casually used as “Judeo-Bolshevism” was in the 1920s and 30s.  When Rep. Keith Ellison first won a seat in Congress, Glenn Beck said to him, “[P]rove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

Substitute any other group in place of Muslim and you’ll see just how insidious such rhetoric truly is.  Arizona recently passed a law which for all intents and purposes will open the floodgates of racial profiling.  The bill is rightfully being attacked as unconstitutional and unjust.  But as any Afghan or Arab man can tell you, profiling has long been a reality in the Muslim community. And we have endured and joined the democratic process and aimed to influence policy.  As a group, we are neither victims (as some claim) nor a protected class (as, no doubt Douthat believes).  We are Americans who are oddly asked to repudiate the actions of people we don’t know and linked to the actions of people we disagree with.  Imagine for a second if a Christian in Kansas was constantly asked to repudiate the actions of Christians in Kenya.

Not only is criticism of Islam and attacks against Muslims acceptable, but actually, the fact that they occur go against Douthat’s underling claim that it is Muslims alone who are pushing for censorship in the public square. You’ll remember that several years ago, the Dixie Chicks received death threats for political speech.  More recently, congressional Democrats received death threats because they voted for health care reform.  Abortion clinics have been attacked because people’s religions tell them that abortion is a sin.  It’s not Muslims who’ve led these attacks.  That’s a fact.  It wasn’t a man named Khalid that called for the banning of the dictionary.

Meanwhile, conservative politicians have openly embraced pastors who’ve said very vile things about Islam.  Sarah Palin’s praise of Franklin Graham (who called Islam “evil” and advised Muslims to accept Christ so that “they don’t have to die in a car bomb“) is but the most recent example.  It’s unlikely that Palin will be forced to distance herself from Graham.

This begs the question: Is Mr. Douthat being naïve, dishonest or both?

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald also has a very interesting take on Douthat’s fallacious conclusion.