Is nothing sacred? Tea Party campaigns against Muslim faith

Does the Tea Party hate Muslims? You betcha. And certainly if they are not actually anti-Arab Islamophobes, then they are doing nothing to challenge this portrayal of themselves as religious bigots, not to mention racists.

Judson Phillips, the founder of the Tea Party Nation, does not mince words when it comes to his views on Islam and the people who practice the faith. “A majority of Tea Party members, I suspect, are not fans of Islam,” Phillips said. “I, personally have a real problem with Islam. With Islam, you have a religion that says kill the Jews, kill the infidels. It bothers me when a religion says kill the infidels. It bothers me a lot more when I am the infidel.”

Phillips sent out an email asking voters of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District to vote for Republican candidate Lynn Torgerson, and against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) because he is a Muslim:

There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax to terrorists in Gaza.

And he refuses to backtrack from his anti-Muslim statements. “I am not going to apologize because I’m bothered by a religion that says kill the infidel, especially when I am the infidel,” said Phillips on the Tea Party Nation website. “Should we vote out Keith Ellison just because he is a Muslim? No. But his beliefs define his character and his character is a central issue.” Meanwhile Phillips denied on the Last word with Lawrence O’Donnell that he believes Muslims should be barred from holding public office.

Rep. Ellison responded to Phillips in the Washington Post, noting that religious tolerance is a deeply rooted American value: “Americans want unity, inclusion, and a spirit of generosity—not hate, bigotry, and fear. We cannot allow the politics of fear to drive our political discourse,” the congressman said. “I issue a call to civility, and urge Americans to reject the divisive rhetoric of Republican Tea Party leaders like Judson Phillips; including calls for my defeat solely because of my religion.” Ellison also noted that some people may not share his political views.

“This is OK. In America, we cherish our diversity of views. But an American’s religion is their own business and no one should be excluded based on considerations like religion, race, sex, etc.,” he added.

On her website, Torgerson displays her own brand of blatant Islamophobia. On immigration she says “The thing we most need to protect against is to prevent the immigration of radical Islamists into our country. And, it needs to be emphasized that they are not going to tell us that they are radical Islamists.” She adds that “we must cease allowing radical Islamists to immigrate into the United States. They wish to institute Sharia Law, Islamic Law, in the stead of the United States Constitution.” On Iran, Torgerson says that “even President Obama supports sanctions against Iran. Opponent Ellison is not even backing his own President on the Iran issue. Opponent Ellison appears to be putting his allegiance to radical Sharia Law, like his radical Islamist friends at CAIR, ahead of the interests and security of we Americans.” The first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison took his seat in January 2007. The second Muslim member of Congress, Rep. André D. Carson, was elected in a special election in 2008 and, like Ellison, is African-American. Like an American patriot in a new era of diversity, Ellison took his oath of office on the Holy Koran — a 1764 edition of the Koran published in London that once owned by Thomas Jefferson, that is.

Taking his oath on Jefferson’s Koran is only part of the compelling story about Ellison. He was born and raised in Detroit. His family was involved in the civil rights movement, and his grandfather was involved in the NAACP in Louisiana. Ellison was raised a Roman Catholic, and converted to Islam while in college. “I can’t claim that I was the most observant Catholic at the time [of my conversion]. I had begun to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change,” Ellsion said. “When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society…I found Islam.”

While in college, Ellison wrote a number of pieces supportive of the Nation of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan. He also helped organize the Minnesota contingent of the Million Man March, and appeared onstage with Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who was known for controversial statements about Jews. These associations created some controversy during his congressional campaign, but obviously this did not derail his candidacy for the office. He denounced Farrakhan and was endorsed by a Jewish newspaper.

And Ellison went to law school, and eventually became the executive director of the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center, which provides criminal defense to indigent clients. As a member of Congress, he has continued his voice as an advocate, speaking out against the right-wing demagoguery over the building of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. Ellison argued that 9/11 terrorists believe that America is at war with Islam. “The way to undermine and counteract that false narrative is to stand on our sacredly held beliefs of religious liberty. That’s how we demonstrate that, no, America is a country…for everyone where people worship as they see fit. The problem with stopping this Islamic center is that it implies that the Muslim world is responsible for it, when it was Al Qaeda that was responsible.”

Further, Rep. Ellison spoke out against Juan Willaims’ recent comment that he is scared when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane. Ellison called the remarks “ugly,” “bigoted” and “un-American.” “Sadly, Juan Williams has taken a bat to all the work he did around civil rights,” Ellison said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show. “I feel like taking all that stuff off my shelf and putting it in the garbage, because I just really feel he has dishonored his legacy to that extent.”

With their demonization of this Minnesota congressman, the Tea Party gets a two-for-one deal: he is a Muslim American, and he is black. This is important because the Tea Party is also a movement that throws raw racism into the mix. From their introduction to prime-time during the 2008 presidential election, the Teabaggers at the McCain-Palin rallies called then-candidate Obama a Muslim and a terrorist. For Obama — whose father was Muslim and who spent some of his childhood in Indonesia — the Tea Party found the “other,” someone with foreign credentials whose citizenship, American-ness and allegiances they could question.

At a McCain town hall meeting, one woman told the Republican presidential nominee that Obama is an Arab. McCain told the crowd that Obama is not an Arab and is “a decent person,” though it is unclear why McCain suggested someone cannot be a decent Arab, but that’s another story. “Come on, John!” one person in the crowd shouted in response to McCain, while others yelled “liar,” and “terrorist,” referring to Obama. And at the infamous health care town hall meetings, Tea Party held their signs depicting Obama as a Muslim terrorist dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.

In 2006, Glenn Beck said the following to Ellison on his cable program: “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’” As far as the Tea Party is concerned, Muslim Americans such as Rep. Ellison are the enemy. And with bigots like that, you just can’t win.