Rep. Keith Ellison Challenges Rep. Michelle Bachmann: Put Up or Shut Up
by James Zogby
A few weeks back, the sensation-seeking Representative Michele Bachmann did her best imitation of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. She and four of her Congressional colleagues released letters they had collectively sent to the Inspectors General of the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence calling on them to investigate whether “influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood” have “had an impact on the federal government’s national security policies.”
Warning of “determined efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to penetrate and subvert the American government as part of its ‘civilizational jihad’” the representatives wanted the Inspectors General to identify the Muslims who were influencing U.S. policy.
In making these charges, Bachmann and her cohorts were relying on the work of a Washington-based group the Center for Security Policy - a notorious player in the anti-Muslim industry that has been working for several years to smear Muslim American groups. The head of the Center served as one of Bachmann’s advisers during her ill-fated run for the presidency and the only source cited in the Congressional letters was the Center’s “training program” “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within.”
The evidence the Congressmen present to back up their ominous warnings is, at best, slight—in some cases, creating a “straw man” out of a single reed of straw. For example, Representative Gohmert points accusingly to the fact that “this administration continues to bow down before groups associated with the goal of ‘destroying Western civilization from within’” - by which he means that the Administration apologized to Muslims in the Qur’an-burning incident in Afghanistan. This, he suggests, must be due to the administration’s “continued meetings” with Muslim groups, which has blinded them to the threat these Muslims pose to our “ability to protect ourselves.”
In other instances the evidence reads more like a “six degrees of separation game.” Using this trick, Bachmann and the Center point accusing fingers at some Muslims who serve in the administration. Among those who were singled out by name is Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
In the case of Abedin, the game goes from absurd, to downright bizarre. Her father and mother are Muslim and her father taught at a Muslim university in Saudi Arabia, and so they must be…(fill in the blank). In one article inspired by the Center’s work that appeared in the Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, questions are asked as to whether Abedin “had been groomed to access movers and shakers to advance the cause of Islam in America.” The article goes on to question whether Abedin’s marriage to a Jewish Member of Congress was but a clever ruse designed to further this “Islamist agenda.” The evidence? Since Abedin is a Muslim why else would her family have approved of her marrying a non-Muslim? And, after all, she works for Clinton and Obama, who share, the article says, the “socialist agenda, which includes domination of the U.S. by a Muslim-ruled world!”
What is so intriguing about conspiracy-minded loonies is how their rhetorical charges and the gravity of the threat they see continues to grow each time they speak. Not to disappoint, Bachmann’s paranoia gives evidence of this trait. In a recent interview in which she discussed her effort, she explained, “it appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood…it appears that there are individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have very sensitive positions in our Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security…I am calling [for an investigation] to see who these people are and what access they have to our information.”
As outrageous as all this behavior may be, the letters and the charges generated very little media attention, but that doesn’t mean that they can be dismissed, for two main reasons: the five, though all a bit loony, hold positions of influence on key Congressional committees; and despite the fact that the source of the “evidence” cited in the Congressional letters is the pernicious Muslim-bashing Center for Security Policy,“witch hunts” if let unchecked can ruin lives and damage reputations.
Let’s look first at the five Members of Congress who signed the letters: Representatives Bachmann, Tom Rooney, and Lynn Westmoreland all sit on the Select Committee on Intelligence, while Representatives Trent Franks and Louis Gohmert are members of the Judiciary Committee. With the exception of Bachmann, all hold leadership positions, either within their respective committees or in the House Republican caucus.
As an example of the potential this group might have to influence policy, this week the powerful Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Rogers speaking on a radio program hosted by the head of the Center called Bachman’s campaign to “root out” Muslims “very important” noting that she is “taking the lead” on this issue.
As was the case during the McCarthy era, “witch-hunts” have victims and not only in jobs lost and careers ruined. Equally troubling is the distress that campaigns of this sort can bring to those not named, but who live in fear that their religion or their ethnicity will be the reason that they will be held in suspicion, denied a position, or held back from advancement. And as I know from bitter personal experience, it can result in entire communities being shunned by officials who fear being attacked for associating with a group that has been smeared as “dangerous.” Because there is a scarcity of courageous leaders in Washington, all too often the “witch hunts” will fester, taking a terrible toll before being challenged and defeated.
It is for this reason that I am so thankful that the wise voters of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District sent Keith Ellison to Congress. He is smart, picking his fights carefully. He is principled and courageous, venturing forth on matters that others tend to shy away from. And his wise counsel and thoughtful approach to issues has earned him the respect of his colleagues.
Ellison demonstrated his leadership this week when he directly challenged the sensation-seeking Islamophobe, Representative Michele Bachmann. In a stern letter to Bachmann and company, Ellison asks that she provide his “office with a full accounting of the sources you used to make the serious allegations against the individuals and organizations in your letters. If there is not credible, substantial evidence for your allegations, I sincerely hope you will publicly clear their names.”
Washington Watch is a weekly column written by AAI President James Zogby, author of Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters, a book that brings into stark relief the myths, assumptions, and biases that hold us back from understanding the people of the Arab world.