Politics & Policy

Rep. Keith Ellison’s “Bigotry”

The congressman told a teachable story this morning. One problem: Ellison had it backward.

This morning, Rep. Keith Ellison (Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, Minn.) appropriated a hearing on Islamic radicalism by weeping his way through a speech about whata-buncha-nasty-bigots Americans are. He chose as his case in point Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Pakistani-born Muslim American who rushed to lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, to assist in rescue efforts, and died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Here’s how Representative Ellison tells the story of the aftermath of his death: 

After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens.

Does Ellison’s account check out with reality?

#ad#No. It is actually pretty close to the opposite of the truth. In fact, six weeks after the September 11 attacks — before Hamdani’s remains were identified, which Ellison implies to be the turning point of public perception — Congress signed the PATRIOT Act into law with this line included: “Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing.” That is, Hamdani was actually singled out for particular high honors among the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

There’s little evidence of the “rumors” of which Ellison speaks, either. Poke around yourself. Go to Google and search for Mohammed Salman Hamdani’s name, using various time frames from before today’s hearings (say, in the week after the September 11 attack). You’ll discover two discordant sets of returns: none for sites and news reports accusing Hamdani of being a terrorist, and many thousands of pages honoring him as a hero while claiming that he was “widely accused” of being a terrorist.

Web pages that do source the claim that Hamndani was “widely accused” of being a terrorist typically trace back to a single report from the New York Post, dated Oct. 12, 2001, and titled “Missing — or Hiding? Mystery of NYPD Cadet from Pakistan.” The piece has been taken offline, but its content is preserved elsewhere. Here’s what the New York Post wrote:

His family distributed missing-person fliers in the fear that the 23-year- old, who is trained as an emergency medical technician, went instead to the World Trade Center to help and was killed.

But investigators for the FBI and NYPD have since questioned the family about which Internet chat rooms he visited and if he was political.

Hamdani, a graduate of Queens College with a biochemistry degree, had been in the NYPD cadet program for three years. He became “inactive” because he needed to work full time, his mother said.

Police sources said he hadn’t been to work at the NYPD since April, but he still carried official identification.

One source told the Post: “That tells me they’re not looking for this guy at the bottom of the rubble. The thing that bothers me is, if he is up to some tricks, he can walk past anybody [using the ID card].”

Hamdani’s mother, who has been in the United States for two decades, denied her son was political or a religious fundamentalist. Cops at the Midtown Tunnel reported spotting someone who looked like Hamdani yesterday morning.

#page#So the Post reported 1) that Hamdani’s family believed he died in the WTC attacks, 2) that the FBI asked Hamdani’s mother a few background questions after a mistaken sighting, and 3) that an unnamed source felt such questioning implied guilt. No doubt, that was hard on the grieving mother. But frankly, this — a mistaken sighting, and very preliminary investigations of many people, most of whom turn out to be innocent — is the kind of thing that inevitably happens after a major terrorist attack.

After that questioning, the FBI didn’t go farther in a serious investigation, and, a week later, Hamdani was singled out for honors by the United States’ executive and legislative branches with those lines in the PATRIOT Act that immortalized his story.

#ad#Then, he was eulogized by the New York Times, had scholarship funds named after him, was honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (both of whom went barefoot to honor Muslim practice) at his funeral, and has been celebrated over and over again by the media.

The belief that Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a victim of anti-Muslim bigotry was never based in reality. It was manufactured by the Left as a rhetorical prop, exploited as a bludgeon against people who want to talk seriously about terrorism. If Hamdani was singled out for his faith, it would appear he was singled out for especially high honors. Most 9/11 victims were not half so celebrated as he was. Rather than suffering from apocryphal American anti-Muslim bigotry, Salman Hamdani appears to have benefited from America’s eager inclusiveness.

Americans have long seen Mohammed Salman Hamdani as a hero. Too bad Representative Ellison saw him only as a prop.

— Matthew Shaffer is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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