Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Rep. Keith Ellison (R-Minn.), one of two Muslim Americans serving in Congress, broke into tears Thursday as he testified at the controversial hearing convened by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to examine the threat of violent extremism within the Muslim community in America.
Ellison had been called before the House Homeland Security Committee to offer his perspective representing a congressional district with the largest Somali-American population in the country. In the past, Ellison has accused King of being "McCarthyistic" in his approach to the Muslim community and wasted no time taking the congressman to task again Thursday.
"We need to approach this through fair analysis and do no harm. I fear this hearing does not meet that standard," Ellison said to King. "When you ascribe the violent actions [of individuals] to an entire community, you assign blame to an entire community. This is the heart of scapegoating and stereotyping."
But Ellison's aggressive tone softened as he neared the end of his remarks and told the committee the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old paramedic and Muslim American from Queens, who died in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
"He was one of those brave first responders, who tragically lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attack almost a decade ago," Ellison explained. As he told the story of the man wanting to be seen as "an all-American kid" and becoming a research assistant at Rockefeller University (while working as a paramedic part time), the congressman struggled to continue speaking.
"After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith," Ellison said through tears, explaining that there was speculation that Hamdani had disappeared after the attack because he was in league with the attackers. His remains were later found in the rubble of the Twin Towers.
"Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American, who gave his life for other Americans," Ellison said through his tears. "He should not be identified as just another member of an ethnic group or just another religion, but as an American who gave everything to his fellow Americans."