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US Muslim Congressman Faces Reelection, Islamic State

  • Siamak Dehghanpour

American voters say the fear of the Islamic State group is one of their most important concerns in the upcoming mid-term elections.

President Barack Obama’s decision to attack Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, and the fact that some American Muslims have joined the Islamic State fighters has put some Democratic candidates in a tough spot.

It may have put Congressman Keith Ellison in a tougher spot than most. He is the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.

Ellison entered Congress in 2006 - as a Democrat opposed to the Iraq War.

Ways to reduce IS threat

As he hopes to retain his seat for a fifth consecutive term, he is now a supporter of the president’s war against the Islamic State group.

“It’s tough. I do think that ISIS is a threat. But I also believe that the most important ways to confront ISIS are not necessarily military in nature," Ellison said, referring to another term for the Islamist group.

"Cutting off their ability to sell oil. Cutting off their financial flows. Stopping their recruits from going through Turkey or countries in the region. Making sure the government of Iraq rules in an inclusive way and minimizes sectarianism. These are all non-military things that will reduce the threat of ISIS," he said.

Approximately 100 Americans have fought for the Islamic State group. At least 10 are from Minnesota's capital, Minneapolis, which Ellison represents.

“We have to tell our young people, if they want to do something good and constructive for their faith, what they need to do is help the poor. Help the less fortunate," Ellison said.

"They need to get involved in the civic life of America. They can criticize any U.S. policy that they want to, but it needs to be through the ballot box, use their First Amendment rights. To take up arms with a foreign power against their own country, is simply not acceptable," he said.

Republican opponent

Doug Dagget, Ellison’s Republican opponent in the elections, believes that the policies of Democrats influenced some of the Somali Americans who joined Islamic State fighters in Syria.

“It is very concerning. Somalian Americans came here to prosper. We have the biggest Somalian community right here in Minneapolis," Dagget said.

"The community leaders tell me that it’s lack of jobs, lack of education, lack of hope. They don’t believe that Congressman Ellison has been doing enough. He’s been absent," Dagget said.

Ellison was the first congressman to be sworn in with his hand on the Quran.

Has being a Muslim in America’s political climate helped him or has it been a difficult challenge?

“It’s helped me because no matter what struggles or difficulties I’ve faced, I can always go to prayer and it always strengthens me. It helps me. It’s an overall benefit," Ellison said.

"I look forward to fasting, prayer and it’s made me a happier person than I believe I would be otherwise. Sometimes there are acts of violence and these are always sad, but when a Muslim is involved in it, they always attribute it to Islam. Sometimes I have to deal with anti-Islamic actions, but these are small things and they don’t bother me at all," he said.

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