Keith Ellison, agent provocateur du jour

Is our congressman-elect from the 5th District the new Borat, exposing hatred and bigotry in America?

Adri Mehra

Less than a month after being elected the first Muslim American ever to serve in the U.S. Congress, the Man with the Quran is already burning the piñata at the white kids’ birthday party.

U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told the press shortly after his election that he would be placing his hand upon Islam’s holiest book, instead of the Bible, while he takes the oath of office Jan. 4.

Naturally, this has stoked the flames of resentment from the anti-Islam, anti-Ellison and frankly anti-American component of the religious Reichstag that controls conservative debate on talk radio.

Just three weeks after syndicated talking head Glenn Beck asked Ellison on CNN Headline News to prove he wasn’t working with “our enemies” (Muslims, apparently), everyone’s favorite Jew-for-Jesus commentator Dennis Prager is saying Ellison’s Quran plan “undermines America” and “America should not give a hoot Ö America is interested in only one book – the Bible Ö If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

Prager goes on to compare Ellison’s choice of the Quran to a hypothetical racist picking Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” for their oath-taking ceremony and that “Ellison’s doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones.”

That sort of mind-spew of cultural hatred isn’t worth discussing here if I can’t devote the rest of the column to it.

But isn’t the oath of office about upholding the Constitution, and not the Bible? Why swear on any book when we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Are not those the primary sources of our democratic value system?

And isn’t this whole messy burrito, as Ellison himself has stated, “what freedom of religion is all about?”

Instead, the religious right has turned this into a litmus test of Ellison’s patriotism or, worse, his moral fiber, as if being of a different faith were a basis upon which to question it.

But really, this reactionary portion of the debate is child’s play at best, poisonous race-baiting at its worst.

But to paraphrase pop music bard Billy Joel, Keith didn’t start this “fire” – it was always burning, since the world’s been turning.

Which is to say that Ellison is neither the first nor last to be persona non grata in the cranky old boys’ club of American politics.

Like Paul Wellstone 15 years before him, Ellison will by turns be labeled a funky, well-needed firebrand and the oratorial equivalent of a large-mouthed bass.

But, after 12 long years of a sleepy center-right DFL and the brusque twilight of Wellstone-style prairie populism, isn’t a loud progressive voice exactly what this democracy is historically due for, whether or not you sympathize with its content?

As Billy Joel advised us on “Angry Young Man” from his 1976 album “Turnstiles”:

“Give a moment or two to the angry young man Ö with his working class ties and his radical plans Ö He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood, but it’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.”

It’s been a comfort getting to know you, Mr. Ellison. Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound from you – funny, but it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]