Keith Ellison won the nomination of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party on September 12 to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which centers on the city of Minneapolis; he seems all but certain to win the general election against the Republican nominee, Alan Fine.

Ellison’s primary victory has generated tremendous national media attention, because his likely triumph in November would mark the first election of a Muslim to Congress.  (Ellison, who is black, would also be the first black representative from Minnesota.)  This might be remarkable enough in American politics five years after September 11, but it seems even more surprising given Ellison’s past associations with the Nation of Islam and his ongoing personal ties to Palestinian-born Nihad Awad, cofounder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Ellison, a former Catholic, converted to Islam in college and entered the orbit of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in the early 1990’s, working as an organizer during the group’s original 1995 “Million Man March,” but he has since claimed to have distanced himself from the group and its racist and antisemitic ideas.  As for CAIR’s Awad, Ellison has known him since his days at the University of Minnesota and has had Awad speak at fundraisers for his campaign.  Predictably enough, Ellison’s electoral success in the predominantly white 5th has created the perfect narrative of a triumph of multiculturalism and tolerance throughout much of both the mainstream and alternative media, so much so that attempts to scrutinize Ellison’s ties to these groups have been routinely denounced in the liberal blogosphere for their supposed prejudice.  However, the real significance of Ellison’s prospective victory is that it signals another advance of CAIR’s political influence and the deepening of the persistent confusion and wishful thinking in America about an assimilable, moderate Islam that can function inside a pluralistic society and representative government.

More worrying and potentially dangerous than anything else in his record is Ellison’s CAIR connection and what a U.S. representative with close ties to the Islamic group might represent in American politics.  CAIR has been acquiring increasing power over the last five years through successfully posing as the voice of “moderate” or “mainstream” Islam and effectively exploiting the administration’s willful ignorance about the group.  CAIR, as described by Srdja Trifkovic on Chronicles’ website, “is a radical political group that does not merely want to change the nature of discourse on Islam in America, it wants to Islamize America.”  In the last year, the group has also succeeded in petitioning the Bush administration to allow its representatives to see, in depth and behind the scenes, the security procedures at O’Hare International Airport.  This was done supposedly in the interest of guaranteeing the absence of anti-Muslim bias, as CAIR had made allegations that Muslims are subjected to unfair scrutiny upon their arrival in this country.  CAIR also successfully forced the White House to abandon its rhetoric of referring to jihadists as “Islamic fascists” on the grounds that the combination of the two words was derogatory to Muslims.  (In fact, the main reason to object to this phrase is not its supposed derogatory nature but because it imagines jihadism to be an effectively secular, political ideology comparable to fascism rather than the precisely Islamic and religious movement that it is.)

The point is not whether the administration should use that particular phrase but that CAIR was able, within a matter of days, to convince the administration to abandon this language by insisting that it vilified Muslims, once again striking the pose of the benevolent “religion of peace” and effectively playing the role of oppressed minority and victim.  With a congressman who has close ties to the CAIR leadership and receives support from that group, CAIR’s ability to browbeat other elected figures and shape government policy to suit its agenda will increase.  CAIR has effectively been an active sympathizer with the “extreme” Islam from which its “moderate” Islam is allegedly distinct, showing the distinction to be essentially a false one.  With one of its allies in Congress, it will be better able to continue to perpetrate and maintain this fraud at the very heart of the U.S. government.