Keith Ellison on freedom of speech: "It's a good and bad thing" [INTERVIEW PART 3]

Categories: Keith Ellison
ellison rect.jpg
Ellison: "There are people in America who would ban Islam if they could."
As the first Muslim elected to Congress, Keith Ellison often serves as an Islam spokesman of sorts.

Last week was especially difficult in that respect, as violent protests erupted across the Middle East in response to an anti-Islam film trailer published on YouTube.

-- Keith Ellison: "Let's say that the war on drugs is over" [INTERVIEW PART 2]
-- Keith Ellison on Chris Fields: "He should be ashamed of himself" [INTERVIEW PART 1]
-- Michele Bachmann's Keith Ellison comments: Media criticized for "unconscionable" headlines

In the penultimate installment of our interview with the congressman, we asked Ellison how he makes sense of the anti-America wave that crested with the attack of the American embassy in Libya, and about how he reconciles the right to free speech with the reality that "speech" like the anti-Islam film can have deadly consequences.

-- On what he makes of the recent Libya embassy attacks that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens --

First you have to understand what is actually happening. There were literally millions of people calling for Mubarak to step down. In [the case of the embassy attack], you have hundreds, not millions. What you see is the religious extremists and the regime loyalists engaging in counter-revolutionary activity. That's what it is.

We shouldn't look at this and say, 'Oh my God, what did we do wrong? We're messing up again.' What we should say is, 'we support the democratic movement emerging in the country.' We shouldn't get chased out. They are cooperating, [Libyans] denounced the violence. March 'til the tips of your shoes wear off, but do it peacefully. The U.S. government didn't do any of that, we aren't getting chased out by some counter-offensive.

[The embassy attacks and pro-democracy protestors] aren't the same people. They aren't any more the same than tea partiers and occupiers. A person in a foreign country might see the occupy movement, and see the tea party, and say 'They are all Americans doing this.' They are all Americans but they don't have the same point of view...

And so, we have to understand what we are looking at. We aren't looking at democratic movements, we are looking at extremists and ex-regime loyalists and in the case of Egypt, soccer thugs, yes, soccer thugs. A group called The Ultra, look them up, they are soccer thugs. If there's glass breaking they want to be there, and that's how they are.

This is why what Romney's doing is so bad, because he hasn't taken the time to understand. He would run the risk of alienating people who are truly on our side, on the side of democracy and freedom. In Libya, there are people holding up signs saying they apologize, talking about how much they loved Chris Stevens.

-- On the civil war in Syria and on how America should be involved, if at all --

The Obama Administration has done a lot in Syria that they don't get credit for. There are reports now and then of the CIA being on the border, but they don't want to be seen neck-deep in another Middle Eastern war.

People like McCain say we have to do more there -- I personally think we need to set up a safe zone on the border of Syria and if the Assad regime breaks the line of the safe zone, it should be defended militarily. It should be for the express purpose of providing medical assistance and refugee help, and we should explicitly say we aren't here to aggress against you.

-- On the free speech issues raised by the anti-Islam film trailer that sparked last week's Middle East protests and attacks --

Well, let me see that not only is freedom of expression a constitutional right, it's deeply rooted in American history. But other countries don't have that same heritage. They just don't.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Keith Ellison: "Freedom of expression [is] deeply rooted in American history. But other countries don't have that same heritage. They just don't." Why not, and would it not be more accurate to say that no Muslim countries share this heritage with us? What is it about Islam that forbids any thought, speech, or expression that disagrees with it, and why does Islam react to such thoughts, speech, and expression with threats and acts of violence, destruction, and murder?


Keith Ellison: "This isn't that type of [political] speech. It is incitement. But, given our constitutional heritage and our culture, we don't have any good way to deal with it." No, Keith, I watched the trailer. There was no incitement to violence in it, unless one counts the quotes of Muhammad, which originate in the Koran, Hadith, and Sira. Besides, if a bunch of Christians wanted to make a movie that incited violence against Muslims, why wouldn't they just outright say: "Christians, go and kill Muslims." But there is nothing like that in the film. So far, the only people responding violently to the film have been Muslims, and their targets have been Americans and Westerners - people associated with Christianity or for being otherwise anti-Islamic. Why would Christians make a film to incite Muslims to kill other [perceived] Christians?


Keith Ellison: "But, given our constitutional heritage and our culture, we don't have any good way to deal with it." No good way to deal with it? How about just dealing with it, and ignoring it. Or better yet, you could debate the points of the film, and argue that Muhammad was not a rapist, pedophile, thief, or murderer. You could argue that from the Islamic sources, and... Oh wait a minute, the Islamic sources do confirm that Muhammad was all those bad things and more. Better to just denounce as bigots and hatemongers people who point out the truth about Muhammad.


Keith Ellison: "Trying to craft a bill or statute to ban it is nearly impossible without banning some other type of speech that may be legitimate." Why not be honest, Keith, and just come out with legislation banning anything critical of Islam, then there will be no fear on your part that speech you deem "legitimate" will be banned.


Keith Ellison: "What legitimate point of view is that? [Koran burning/Nazis marching in Skokie]: Perhaps none, but who is to say which points of view are legitimate and which are not? You, Keith? Sorry, but I do not you being the determiner of which points of view are legitimate, any more than you want me to determine that for you. I doubt many Mormons thought the play "Book of Mormon" was legitimate. As a Christian, I do not think that Andres Serrano's Piss Christ so-called art is legitimate. Should those both be banned? If not, then why suggest we ban "Innocence of Muslims, “or any other criticism of Islam?


I watched the thirteen minute trailer of the Innocence of Muslims. It was not incitement to violence, but it was sort of a bizarre parody of the coming of Muhammad, as described in the canonical Islamic sources. And while I am not critical of them that produced it, I am not interested in watching the entire film. As a target of Islamic aggression, I want to know as much about Islam as possible. I think that is better accomplished by reading books and watching documentaries by legitimate scholars who stand foursquare for the West and refuse to whitewash the reality of Islam and what the jihadists would have in store for us. That said, every now and then, we need to mock the jihadists and ridicule their ridiculous religion and their mythical pedophile of a prophet. Here is my attempt at that. The following emoticon is Muhammad:  :(

Why is he sad? Why, because he is dead, in hell, with no virgins, and getting ripped open and his innards sprawled to the ground every day, for all eternity (at least per Dante’s Inferno).  Was that provocative and offensive? Yes? Incitement? No! Should some Muslim chance upon does it give him the right to harm me or others? Does it? Does it?

CinBlueland topcommenter

Too bad this was done before the news broke that the attack was a planned terrorist attack and had nothing to do with the video except as one more thing for them to be ticked off about. The admin had warnings 2-3 days in advance and the solution? Make plans to be on Letterman.


 @senatortombstone Did you miss the part where Rep. Ellison said Muslims are more free to practice their religion in the US than any other country on Earth? I don't think he was criticizing free speech...

MicheleBachmann topcommenter

 @CinBlueland One reason lying idiots like you are ignored by sensible people is you look to blame Obama for every single thing that goes wrong.   This is because you are a stupid racist asshole who has hated Obama from day one.  You have  zero credibility since you are openly racist (Cin regularly "likes" comments using racial slurs and racist language)  and people like you have blamed Obama for everything from swine flu to this latest embassy nonsense.  I'm sure your dumbass read some made up nonsense on Fox News and now you think sane people need to hear it.   Luckily most people are way smarter than stupid fools like you.  Even if your lie was true and Obama screwed up and got a few people killed its nothing compared to the last time a Republican was in charge of the United States.   George W. Bush put stupid people in charge of national security and then ignored direct warnings about 9/11.  His stupidity allowed 9/11 to happen and then couldn't catch the guy that did it  in 7 years.  It must make you so angry to know Obama is such a badass he didn't even need 4 years to kill Bin Laden.  Obama killed Bin Laden but you are so racist you think people will believe he is weak on dealing with terrorists.  It's pathetic how your tiny brain works.   Stupid racist fools like you are the reason people see the Republican Party as a joke.  Obama will easily win reelection and there is nothing stupid racist liars like you can do to prevent that. 

Now Trending

Minnesota Concert Tickets

From the Vault