In his speech yesterday, Obama referenced Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, who is the first and only Muslim member of Congress. Ellison was elected in 2006. As is standard procedure, Members of Congress often choose to take a symbolic oath of office by placing their hand on a bible. Well, when he took office, Ellison — being Muslim — thought it more appropriate to take his symbolic oath on the Koran. And deeper still, he used Thomas Jefferson’s Koran. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Well, some dark forces of American body politic took this to be an insidious display of anti- Americanism. Leading the charge was former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, who wrote in a letter to his constituents.
“The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”
Just imagine if Goode had his way and Ellison was prevented from taking his oath of office on the Koran. How would Obama have explained that to his audience in Egypt and to Muslims around the world? Deeper still, how would this kind of bigotry have affected American strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond?
For the record, in 2008 Goode was narrowly defeated by Tom Perriello, who is a distinctly internationally minded member of congress and former director of Avaaz.org.
UPDATE: Reader M.B. writes: Keith Ellison isn’t the only Muslim in Congress, Andre Carson is as well although I don’t know if he was also sworn in on a Koran. He was elected in a special election to replace his grandmother, Julia Carson, in March 2008.