Is Virgil Goode a Bigot?

Rep. Virgil Goode (R.-Va.) is being censured by almost everyone for his remarks about incoming Rep. Keith Ellison (D.-Minn.) and Muslim immigration. “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States,” Goode wrote in a letter to a constituent. About Ellison’s intention to be sworn in on the Koran, Goode wrote: “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.”

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In an unsigned editorial titled “A Bigot in Congress,” the Washington Post huffed that Goode was “evidently napping in class the day they taught the traditional American values of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom. This country’s history is rife with instances of uncivil, hateful and violent behavior toward newcomers, be they Jewish, Irish, Italian or plenty of others whose ethnicities did not jibe with some pinched view of what it means to be American.”

Criticisms of Goode shared a common assumption: that he had no reason to be concerned about Ellison, the Koran, or Muslims, and that any suspicion he did have was simply evidence of his bigotry and ignorance. In raising the specter of nativism, the Post was suggesting that America has been down this road before, and has nothing to show for it but shame. Ellison, for his part, sounded a defiant note in an address in Dearborn, Michigan. To cries of “Allahu akbar” from a Muslim crowd, he declared: “On January 4, I will go swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I’ll place my hand on the Quran.”

Ellison spoke at a convention hosted by the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America. According to a 2004 Chicago Tribune article, the Muslim American Society was founded in 1993 as the United States arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian based terror group that has spawned both Hamas and al Qaeda. MAS members maintain that the group has no ties to the Brotherhood, but there are indications that many in the group want to see the Constitution replaced by Islamic law. “We may all feel emotionally attached to the goal of an Islamic state” in America, said a speaker at a 2002 MAS conference, but “we mustn’t cross hurdles we can’t jump yet.” Likewise, according to terror expert Steven Emerson, the Islamic Circle of North America “is a Jamad Islamia group, which is on record as calling for jihad in the United States, to promote the notion of an Islamic world.”

Is it reasonable to ask Ellison if he shares such views? When he speaks at a conference sponsored by such organizations, is it bigotry to ask him if he holds views they are on record as having? When Muslim leaders around the globe have spoken about the necessity to impose Islamic law upon the world, is it sheer nativism to ask Ellison and American Muslims if they hold the same views? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in 2005 that “the wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.” As late as November 2003, the website of the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi embassy in Washington stated that “the Muslims are required to raise the banner of Jihad in order to make the Word of Allah supreme in this world.”

On the basis of what evidence do Goode’s many detractors assume that neither Ellison nor any other Muslim in the United States subscribes to these views? Bigotry is an obstinate and irrational hatred of a particular group. Is it obstinate or irrational, or any act of hatred at all, to ask Ellison to clarify where he stands on the MAS’s desire for the imposition of Islamic law in the United States? He has chosen to be associated with MAS and ICNA. He ought to be willing to clarify matters accordingly. And the mainstream media ought to be willing to take time out from vilifying Virgil Goode long enough to entertain the possibility that this case doesn’t quite fit their preconceived notions.