Not Goode enough

December 26, 2006

Shameful enough that in this season of peace on earth, good will toward men arrived with an insult to the first Muslim member of Congress from one of his new colleagues.

Even more disturbing was the ignorance reflected in Republican Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr.'s remarks: He asserted that Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison represents the first wave of a major Muslim migration into the United States that threatens American values.

Americans sincerely trying to put aside their biases are not well-served by elected officials who proudly espouse wrongheaded views fostering distrust and hatred.

The controversy arose after the newly elected Mr. Ellison announced that he would hold a Quran instead of the traditional Bible during a private ceremony next month marking his swearing-in to the House. Hundreds of Mr. Goode's constituents contacted him to express their dismay, and he responded by echoing their concerns.

"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," he wrote.

Mr. Goode is a staunch opponent of immigration, both legal and illegal. But that doesn't have anything to do with Mr. Ellison, a Detroit native whose family roots in this country extend back centuries and who converted to Islam in college.

Further, Mr. Goode's expressed fear of a Muslim immigration wave unless controls are sharply tightened is without any foundation in fact.

But where the Goode message does succeed is in playing on the fears of Americans who see the demography of the United States changing - with Hispanics being by far the fastest-growing group - and worry that something precious to them will be lost.

The truth, of course, is that newcomers have always been this country's great strength. The "values and beliefs traditional to the United States" that Mr. Goode wants to preserve extol tolerance and equality.

And oh, yes, freedom of religion. There is no national Bible, no national holy book at all. House members simply raise their right hands when they are sworn in all together during the only ritual that counts. All this fuss has been over a private photo session for Mr. Ellison's family and supporters.

That's what the Virginia congressman would have explained to his constituents if he had been a leader. Instead, he followed them down the low road of mindless prejudice.

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