Keith Ellison Chokes Up at Hill Hearing on Muslims

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In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Things haven't always been easy since then.

Before Ellison even got to Washington, Townhall columnist Dennis Prager attacked him for wanting to be (ceremonially) sworn into Congress on a Quran, rather than a Bible. Prager wrote, "Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath," and controversy ensued.

The next month, then-Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) told colleagues that Ellison didn't belong in Congress. "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of American to prevent our resources from being swamped," Goode wrote in a letter to fellow representatives.

Today, Ellison has been accused of being pro-terrorist. Some of the insinuations about him have to do with his actual political history, including his involvement with the Nation of Islam, which was outlined in this 2006 Weekly Standard story by Minneapolis native and Power Line blogger Scott Johnson. Some of them stem from actual Islamophobia. He is now one of two Muslim members, as Andre Carson (D-Ind.) joined in 2007.

So, perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that Ellison got emotional during Thursday's hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, held by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.). Ellison began crying as he completed his testimony as a witness before the committee (skip ahead to 8:19):


Ellison struggled to finish this section of his prepared testimony--a story about Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New York City paramedic and police cadet who died responding to the 9/11 attacks and was slandered posthumously with rumors that he had been connected to a terrorist group:

Let me close with a story, but remember that it's only one of many American stories that could be told. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave first responders who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, "He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore No. 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived, and he was called Sal by his friends... He became a research assistant at Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang in Handel's Messiah in Queens. He saw all the Star Wars movies, and it was well known that his new Honda was the one with "Yung Jedi" license plates.

Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on 9/11. After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed.

Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens.

Mohammed Salman Hamdani is us. He is every American. He is our neighbor. If we make him the problem, we all lose. If we engage him in the solution, America and the world will be a more vibrant, safer place for us and our children.

Ellison didn't just well up; he fought through tears to finish a few paragraphs and seemed, at a few moments, as if he might not make it to the end.

Ellison isn't a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and his appearance as a witness may look odd. It's not terribly uncommon, however, for members to testify at hearings, and two other members of Congress testified at King's hearing Thursday morning: Michigan Democrat John Dingell, who is the longest-serving House member in history and represents a large Muslim population; and Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who represents an area where radicalization is a problem.

In December, Ellison heard about the hearing by word of mouth. As King planned an investigation into American Muslim radicalization, word circulated on Capitol Hill. When Ellison heard about it, he approached King, met with him, and told his Republican colleague he thought the series of hearings would be a bad idea. King extended an invitation to Ellison to attend.

No one knew exactly what Ellison would say, and he was still finalizing his testimony last night. King noted as the hearing began that he hadn't seen Ellison's testimony and had no idea what his colleague was about to say.

For all the hype surrounding this hearing, Ellison's tears were is most notable point--certainly its most moving--but they did little to change it. As Dave Weigel notes, King sat through Ellison's tears poker faced and thanked him for appearing. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) teared up in sympathy, but that was about it.

The show--which was surprisingly courteous, despite the grandstanding that happens at every congressional hearing--went on.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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