WASHINGTONâ€”Rep. Keith Ellison said Wednesday that attempts to insinuate that Barack Obama is Muslim wonâ€™t have any effect on the presidential candidate, arguing that Americans wonâ€™t fall for such a â€œbigotedâ€ appeal.
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim member of Congress, also says he has no doubt that a Muslim could be elected president.
Rumors have circulated on the Internet for months that Obama, who is Christian, is Muslim, and the issue kicked up again this week with a photograph of him dressed in traditional local garments during a visit to Kenya. The Drudge Report posted the photograph and said it was being circulated by â€œClinton staffers,â€ but Sen. Hillary Clintonâ€™s campaign has denied knowing anything about it.
Also, a radio talk show host warming up a crowd for GOP presidential candidate John McCain referred repeatedly to Barack Hussein Obama and called him a â€œhack, Chicago-styleâ€ politician. McCain denounced the comments.
â€œItâ€™s a deliberate attempt to associate him with things Islamic,â€ Ellison said of the use of Obamaâ€™s middle name.
â€œThere has been a concerted effort to whip up fear, anxiety, bigotry against Obama based on his Muslim roots, but he is in fact a Christian, and on top of that, those peopleâ€™s efforts are going to fail,â€ Ellison said. â€œAnd they wonâ€™t fail because heâ€™s proven that heâ€™s really not a Muslim; theyâ€™ll fail because Americans will come to the conclusion that the organizing principle of our nation is freedom of worship.â€
Obamaâ€™s father and stepfather were Muslim, and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim countryâ€”but Obama was not raised Muslim.
â€œAssuming that the American public is bigoted, and infused with religious bigotry against Muslims, is incorrect,â€ Ellison said.
And he insisted that a Muslim could become president.
â€œLook, we elected a Catholic,â€ Ellison said. â€œMitt Romney was a viable candidate in this race. I donâ€™t think that his decline had to do with him being Mormon.â€ Romney, a GOP candidate, dropped out of the race this year.
â€œSo I think that certainly America could elect a Muslim president,â€ he said. â€œAmerica could elect a woman president. I think we probably are going to elect a black president. And weâ€™ll all be better for it.â€
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which fights anti-Muslim bigotry, said he agreed with Ellison.
â€œThere clearly is a level of anti-Muslim attitude in our society, but I think itâ€™s still a minority,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a vocal minority, but itâ€™s still a minority. The majority of Americans respect people of all faiths, and I think while taking faith into consideration, it would not be the main factor in their voting.â€
Just last year, Ellison himself was at the center of controversy about tolerance of Islam, when he faced criticism for taking a ceremonial oath of office with a Quran. But none of that has colored his view of Americaâ€™s attitudes toward his religion.
â€œBig deal,â€ he said. â€œNone of it took any shine off the moment. In fact, it made it a little bit more memorable.â€
Ellison, an Obama supporter, said that he has spoken with the candidate about the issue, but declined to divulge what was said. Ellison did say that he thinks that Obama has handled the controversy well.
â€œHeâ€™s not a Muslim, but in stating that fact, he hasnâ€™t disparaged Muslims in any way,â€ he said.