The last week has shown us just how easy it is to attack the moral and political foundations of this country from within, and what courage it takes to fight back. Fortunately, Keith Ellison has proven himself to be a brave defender of American values in the face of Virgil Goode's un-American (and un-Christian) attack.
Here's a Merriam-Webster definition of a traitor: "One who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." That's Virgil Goode in a nutshell. He is seeking to undermine our American values and the guidance of our Constitution to score cheap political points with his constituents. As Juan Cole and others have pointed out, he is betraying his sworn duty as an elected United States representative.
He is also following in the footsteps of anti-Semitic bigots who once used the same scare tactics - including fear of immigration - to oppose the integration of Jews into American life. That's why Jewish-American figures like Alan Dershowitz have defended Ellison - and why the Holocaust Museum has reprimanded member Dennis Prager for his demagogic appeal to right-wing bigotry over this issue. (A spokesman for the Council explained that only President Bush has the power to remove Prager from the Museum group, which he should do immediately.)
Goode is not only un-American in his attack on Ellison. He's un-Christian, too.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus admonishes his followers to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I'm sure that Mr. Goode, like many Christians, is outraged when Christians in predominantly Muslim countries are not allowed to express their faith in public, to participate in electoral politics, or to use their religious symbols in all aspects of their life.
Jesus commands Mr. Goode, in no uncertain terms, to treat Mr. Ellison as he would wish to be treated if he were assuming office in a Muslim country and wanted to swear his oath of office on a Bible. He would also tell Mr. Goode that it is his duty as a Christian to welcome Mr. Ellison into the community. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is not a directive that is limited only to those who believe what you believe.
Does that mean Goode should display "tolerance" for Keith Ellison? I've defended the concept of "tolerance" from attacks by fundamentalists and atheists, among others, but here's my problem with it: it smacks of enduring something or someone you don't particularly like having around.
I don't "tolerate" Keith Ellison. I admire, respect, and appreciate him.
Ellison is an American hero. Like other civil rights heroes before him, he knew he would face an onslaught of brutal attacks for being the first to break a barrier - and for doing so without shame or apology. But he did it anyway, like Rosa Parks at the front of the bus or James Meredith entering a segregated university. Like John F. Kennedy running for President while bigots claimed he would "take orders from the Vatican." That, folks, is heroism American-style.
Keith Ellison is a patriot. Here's the Merriam-Webster definition of the word: "one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests." We have but one authority in this country: the Constitution of the United States. Ellison has clearly and articulately expressed his love for this country, and his loyalty and fealty to our constitutional rights.
By swearing his oath of office on the Q'uran, he is affirming the multicultural nature of our country, and our Constitutional duty as Americans not to legislate any one religion (or any religion at all.)
Ellison has also taken the high road in his response to Virgil Goode's condemnation of his swearing-in process. "I'm looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him," he said. "I want to let him know that there's nothing to fear."
Ellison's generous comments toward Mr. Goode reflected the spirituality that is at the core of every religion - once you strip away the divisiveness, the sectarianism, and the hatred that the Virgil Goodes of all faiths use to promote their own power.
You can find either strain - love or conflict - in every religion. By projecting love and forgiveness, Mr. Ellison is teaching the country that Islam can be a religion of reconciliation and unity.
Perhaps a Christian politician can now step in and demonstrate that side of Christianity, too. While it would be moving if Mr. Goode saw the light and sought forgiveness, it seems unlikely that he will. He has betrayed the teachings of Christ this Christmas season, just as he has betrayed the Constitution he has sworn to uphold. That's a tragic example for an American leader to set.
Let's hope the leader of Mr. Goode's party, the President of the United States, will step in to clear the name of the United States and all that it represents.
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