Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA) is being censured by almost everyone for his remarks about incoming Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Muslim immigration. “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States,” Goode wrote in a letter to a constituent, “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.” He also noted Ellison’s intention to be sworn in on the Qur’an, declaring that “if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”
In an unsigned editorial entitled “A Bigot in Congress,” the Washington Post huffed that besides being a bigot, Goode was “colossally stupid” and suffering from “xenophobic delirium.” Goode, opined the Post, was “evidently napping in class the day they taught the traditional American values of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom. This country's history is rife with instances of uncivil, hateful and violent behavior toward newcomers, be they Jewish, Irish, Italian or plenty of others whose ethnicities did not jibe with some pinched view of what it means to be American. Mr. Goode’s dimwitted outburst of nativism is nothing new.” The “real worry” was that “the rest of the world might take Mr. Goode seriously, interpreting his biased remarks about Muslims as proof that America really has embarked on a civilizational war against Islam.”
The Post was not alone. The Baltimore Sun scored Goode for his “ignorance” and “mindless prejudice,” and editorialized that “Americans sincerely trying to put aside their biases are not well-served by elected officials who proudly espouse wrongheaded views fostering distrust and hatred.” And the New York Times, also in an unsigned editorial, “Fear and Bigotry in Congress,” scolded both Goode and radio host Dennis Prager (who also voiced objections to Ellison’s using the Qur’an in his swearing-in): “As for Mr. Prager and Mr. Goode, we appreciate their help in demonstrating how very fast things can get both nutty and unpleasant once the founding fathers’ wise decision to avoid institutionalizing any religious faith gets breached.”
Fox talking head Susan Estrich said that “the Virgil Goode position on immigration is, basically, to stop it, especially immigration by Muslims. God forbid the world, especially the Muslim world, should see us as a country where diversity is valued and respected, and freedom of religion guaranteed….Where in the Bible does Mr. Goode find his basis for such hatred? And how in the world does Mr. Goode think we will ever fight terrorism, especially terrorism by Muslims, if we do not have the support, cooperation and trust of leaders in the Muslim community? If we are viewed, at the highest levels, as damning all those who believe in the Koran, who will take our side? Don’t we want to encourage Muslims to believe in the political process and participate in it?”
All these criticisms share a common core assumption: that Goode has no reason to be concerned about Ellison, the Qur’an, or Muslims, and that any suspicion he does have is simply evidence of his bigotry and ignorance. In raising the specter of nativism, the Post was suggesting that America has been down this road before, and has nothing to show for it but shame. Suspicions about previous waves of immigrants amounted to nothing more than xenophobia, there was no Jewish conspiracy or Popish plot to subvert the United States Constitution, and concerns about Muslims and the Qur’an are just as hysterical and unfounded. Ellison, for his part, sounded a defiant note in an address in Dearborn, Michigan. To cries of “Allahu akbar” from a Muslim crowd, he declared: “On January 4, I will go swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I’ll place my hand on the Quran.”
Ellison said these words at a convention hosted by the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America. According to a 2004 Chicago Tribune article, “A rare look at secretive Brotherhood in America,” the Muslim American Society was founded in 1993 as the United States arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian based terror group that has spawned both Hamas and Al-Qaeda. MAS members now maintain that the group has no ties to the Brotherhood, but there are indications that many in the group want to see the U.S. Constitution replaced by Islamic law. “We may all feel emotionally attached to the goal of an Islamic state” in America, said a speaker at a 2002 MAS conference, but “we mustn’t cross hurdles we can’t jump yet.” The Muslim American Society’s chapter for Ellison’s home state of Minnesota hosts a website that offers in an “Online Library” texts by the jihad theorists Syed Abul Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb. Qutb in his jihad manifesto Milestones asserts that “Islam is the way of life ordained by God for all mankind, and this way establishes the Lordship of God alone -- that is, the sovereignty of God – and orders practical life in all its daily details. Jihaad in Islam is simply a name for striving to make this system of life dominant in the world.” Likewise, according to terror expert Steven Emerson, the Islamic Circle of North America “is a Jamad Islamia group, which is on record as calling for jihad in the United States, to promote the notion of an Islamic world. ICNA also published something very recently saying that they are against suicide bombings, except when it comes to killing Israelis.”
Is it reasonable to ask Ellison if he shares such views? When he speaks at a conference sponsored by such organizations, is it simply bigotry to ask him if he holds views they are on record as having? When Muslim leaders around the globe have spoken about the necessity to impose Islamic law upon the world, is it sheer nativism to ask Ellison and American Muslims if they hold the same views? On June 29, 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that “the wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.” As late as November 2003, the website of the Islamic Affairs Department (IAD) of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, D.C. stated that “the Muslims are required to raise the banner of Jihad in order to make the Word of Allah supreme in this world, to remove all forms of injustice and oppression, and to defend the Muslims.” This is a venerable idea within Islam: even the noted Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), whose name adorns the pro-democracy Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, taught that “in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with “power politics,” because Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
On the basis of what evidence do Goode’s many detractors assume that neither Ellison nor any other Muslim in the United States subscribes to these views? Bigotry is an obstinate and irrational hatred of a particular group. Is it obstinate or irrational, or any kind of act of hatred at all, to ask Ellison to clarify where he stands on the MAS’s desire for the eventual imposition of Islamic law in the United States? He has chosen to be associated with MAS and ICNA. He ought to be willing to clarify matters accordingly. And the mainstream media ought to be willing to take time out from vilifying Virgil Goode long enough to entertain the possibility that this case doesn’t quite fit their preconceived notions.