During Stanford visit, Minnesota congressman urges community to counter discrimination against Muslim Americans

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) visited Stanford on April 17 as part of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies' Islam in America series. (Photo credit: Orit Mohamed).
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) visited Stanford in April as part of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies’ “Islam in America” series. (Photo credit: Orit Mohamed)

During a visit to Stanford, Congressman KEITH ELLISON (D-MN) talked about the vital role the academic community can play in responding to discrimination against Muslim Americans and to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has pervaded current political discourse.

“There is a very strong nexus between the idea generation and the policy,” Ellison noted, pointing to the need for more research and scholarship about Islam in the American context, such as Muslim voting, gender equity, and Islamic history in the U.S.

Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to the U.S. Congress, and also the first African American elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota, spoke at an April 17 event hosted by Stanford’s Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.

“It is enormously important that we have the Abbasi program here at Stanford, and I hope we make maximum use of it, because there is a lot of opportunity here,” he said.

“We are fumbling as a nation with how we deal with the Muslim community and terrorism,” he added.

“We know that the real question is not whether there is anti-Muslim hate; we know there is. The real question is: What are we going to do about it?”

He called for Muslim Americans to become more engaged in politics and create a substantial voting block. “There is not much of a political cost to insulting Muslims on the airwaves today,” he said.

Ellison also urged the entire community, not just Muslim Americans, to become more involved in ending the discrimination. “We’ve got to get the whole community to say that this is not acceptable,” he said.

Specifically, he pointed to two types of discrimination against the Muslim American community: “individual” discrimination, including the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, and “official” discrimination that is carried out by our government itself, such as anti-Muslim profiling at airports and surveillance of Muslims that often brings up questions of entrapment.

“If you look at the federal and state governments’ efforts to address extremist violence, it is overwhelmingly focused on Muslims, not focused on the people who are actually generating the bulk of the violence,” Ellison said.

To address official discrimination, the congressman is writing to the Justice Department to change these practices. He also suggests adjustments to the approach of the government’s Countering Violent Extremism efforts.

In order to counter private discrimination, “leaders in the community sending social messages is incredibly important,” Ellison said. For example, he recently teamed up with local leaders, including major employers in the state, to run a bipartisan ad campaign that said, “It’d be UN-Minnesotan” to “be silent or still in the face of bigotry shown to Muslims.”

Just as other communities have historically achieved success in politics, Ellison said the Muslim community will too. “As long as people continue to mobilize, organize, communicate,” he concluded, “I believe the future is bright.”

The event was part of the Abbasi Program’s “Islam in America” series. Co-sponsors included Stanford In Government; The Markaz: Resource Center; the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity; Stanford Global Studies Division; and the Black Community Services Center.

Watch the video of his talk on YouTube or listen to an interview with Congressman Ellison via the Abbasi program’s Kaleidoscope podcast.