The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Jefferson’s Quran

Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press reports that Keith Ellison, America’s first Muslim congressman suggested that
… he used the Quran during his oath of office because the Islamic holy book helped influence the founding fathers of America.

Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, garnered international attention Thursday when he used a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives.

The Quran is "definitely an important historical document in our national history and demonstrates that Jefferson was a broad visionary thinker who not only possessed a Quran, but read it," Ellison said in an interview with the Free Press. "It would have been something that contributed to his own thinking."

Hmmm. Christopher Hitchens sets the record straight:
A few years later, in 1786, the new United States found that it was having to deal very directly with the tenets of the Muslim religion. The Barbary states of North Africa (or, if you prefer, the North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire, plus Morocco) were using the ports of today's Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia to wage a war of piracy and enslavement against all shipping that passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. Thousands of vessels were taken, and more than a million Europeans and Americans sold into slavery. The fledgling United States of America was in an especially difficult position, having forfeited the protection of the British Royal Navy.

Under this pressure, Congress gave assent to the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by Jefferson's friend Joel Barlow, which stated roundly that "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen." This has often been taken as a secular affirmation, which it probably was, but the difficulty for secularists is that it also attempted to buy off the Muslim pirates by the payment of tribute. That this might not be so easy was discovered by Jefferson and John Adams when they went to call on Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. They asked him by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. As Jefferson later reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:

"The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."

The reason that Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran was to better understand his enemies. Has a contemporary feel to it, don’t you think?

Sadly, the use of distortion and half-truths is the stock in trade of many politicians. I’ll give Ellison the benefit of the doubt and assume he quickly learned this technique from more senior members of Congress.

There is, of course, another interpretation – that Ellison has contributed to the continuation (albeit a small one) of the information war that Islamists fight every day. Terrorist supporters/sympathizers (think: CAIR) use distortions and half-truths regularly and then label anyone who questions their assertions as an “Islamophobic.”

Ellison’s Web site makes him appear moderate enough, but actions, not marketing copy, are what matter. Many of us will be watching his votes and evaluating his words over his first term in Congress. Then, and only them, can we ascertain Keith Ellison’s true positions.