Keith Ellison calls NYC mosque foes bigots and birthers [TRANSCRIPT]

Categories: Keith Ellison

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Keith Ellison says Muslim Americans won't move to the back of the bus.
Rep. Keith Ellison has drawn a straight line from Fox News to anti-Muslim bigotry in an interview with the BBC. And the Minneapolis congressman, a Muslim, isn't backing down from insisting that an Islamic community center be allowed to open its doors in lower Manhattan.

We've transcribed the highlights.

The interview starts with a question about the wisdom of building the Cordoba Center in an old coat factory building two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. Ellison points out that the center is not just a mosque, and it's not at Ground Zero, contrary to what opponents say.

Here are some excerpts:

ELLISON: "In 1965, we declared that Rosa Parks, a black woman, had the right to sit on a bus anywhere she chose to. Now some people might say, you know, Miss Parks, you're making people feel uncomfortable. The good citizens of Montgomery don't feel comfortable with somebody like you sitting near them, so why don't you go to the back, even though you have the right to sit up front. Hopefully from a 2010 perspective we would all be shocked at such and attitude. But that is exactly the attitude that is being expressed regarding this project."

BBC: "But isn't this a different thing? You're talking about a Civil Rights movement; a huge swath of the country where blacks and whites were simply not equal. This is about a specific place, which did suffer an attack, where feelings are particularly raw among a wide selection of the American public. Just listen." [Audio plays of a 9-11 victim's family member: "The first concern for the families is that the religious beliefs of the terrorists who struck is going to have sic a prominent place," he says, before insisting he's not anti-Muslim.]

ELLISON: "I feel horrible for that gentleman. But there are other people, similarly situated, who do not share his point of view. And then let's also point out that his anger is misplaced. The fact is that Al Qaida did this. And Al Qaida murders Muslims all over the globe."

BBC: "Would it not be sensible, would it not be easier to make these arguments, if the project was put on hold?"

ELLISON: "I say no, because the fact is that the real driver of this thing is not 9-11 families. The people who are leading the anti-mosque effort -- and again, it's not a mosque, it's a community center that will have a muslim prayer room in it [and] I'm sure that anyone who wants to pray in their with whatever faith will be welcome to do so -- the real drivers of it are people who openly proclaim that Barack Obama is not a citizen. The real organizers of this thing are people who are just proponents of religious bigotry. Nothing more. Nothing less. And around the country this thing is emblematic of a larger issue. There have been anti-mosque efforts in Kentucky. One gentleman wants to burn a Koran in Florida. There have been [anti-mosque] efforts in Wisconsin, in the Chicago area, and others."

BBC: "Why do you think that's happened? Because if you look at opinion polls just four or five years ago, more Americans said they were favorable towards Muslims, and things have swapped around."

ELLISON: "It never takes a lot of people. Who was it who said, 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world?' I mean the fact is there's a small group of people have decided that the problem with the world is Muslims and have decided to oppose Muslim engagement in American community life at every point. So they're busy. And they're active. But people of good will need to come together to say, you know, this country is founded on religious freedom and we're going to keep it that way."

BBC: "Why isn't that message getting through?"

ELLISON: "I think it is getting through."

BBC: "The polls suggest it's not. The polls show that more and more Americans have anti-Muslim feelings."

ELLISON: "I think that if you listen to Fox News -- that station is 24/7 trying to incite and divide Americans along religious lines, scapegoating the Muslim community. And this is sort of a well-worn, right-wing tactic."

BBC: "You speak hopefully about the community coming together, but you must be disappointed by the way things have turned out."

ELLISON: "You know, I'm not. I'm not disappointed at all, because I recognize that after the hardship comes the ease. Things are going to get better. They for sure are. I'm confident of that. But I understand that things do take dips sometimes, but they always turn around. And I know that we are going to come to our senses, as well always do. We overcame slavery, Jim Crow segregation, excluding women from the ballot box. We made it so 18-year-olds could vote. We've overcome momentous social barriers in the past, and I think we're going to keep on doing that."

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