Counter-Terrorism: Thomas Jefferson's Koran Unleashed

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January 5, 2007: In a very clever gesture, Keith Ellison, the first Moslem to be elected to Congress, has announced that will take his oath of office using Thomas Jefferson's own copy of the Koran. While widely viewed as a way to diffuse criticism from arch-conservative Christians, the move also sends a subtle message to Islamic extremists as well. The Jefferson Koran is in English. Arch-conservative Moslems consider translating the Koran from the original Arabic  blasphemous. For example, the centuries long tension between Arabs and Berbers in the Sahara is partially fueled by the Berber use of a translated version of the Koran. 

As a black American who converted to Islam, Ellison personifies a significant, if usually unpublicized, rift in the Moslem community in the U.S. Perhaps 30-40 percent of American Moslems are African Americans, many of them former "Nation of Islam" adherents who became mainstream Moslems. They are often regarded as "second class" Moslems by co-religionists of recent immigrant origins, and particularly so by Moslems with Arab roots. Race certainly plays a part in this, as black slavery was once common in much of the Arab world, and Arabs usually consider Moslems of other ethnicities as inferior in any case. 

But there is more. African American Moslems usually have a much different world view than do Moslems of other ethnicities. To begin with, they are Americans, and have a much firmer grasp of the nature of American society, the political process, and the complexities of living in a pluralistic environment. They also adhere to some "American" cultural values. Black American Moslems differ from their immigrant co-religionists in that they are much more committed to securing a niche in mainstream society. They are also much more socially liberal; the most socially conservative Republicans seem like revolutionaries compared with most orthodox Moslems.

Ellison is thus staking out a position distancing himself from the Islamic conservatives, while still asserting his religious preferences. This may make him particularly effective.

 

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