Monday, July 09, 2007

Ellison, conspiracies and overreaction

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison -- the Minneapolis Democrat who is the nation's first Muslim congressman -- said something stupid Sunday.

On comparing Sept. 11 to the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany: "It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you."

Sorry, Keith. Saying something and then trying to disclaim it is not only intellectually discreditable -- it's not enough to keep you from being labeled a nutball on this point.

And what he was saying was dumb in and of itself. The Reichstag fire is an obvious parallel if you believe 9/11 was an inside job -- even if it's a parallel that fails on some key details. But it's irresponsible to give political and intellectual comfort to 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Ellison could argue that he wasn't saying 9/11 was an inside job, only noting that the political effect of the WTC attack was similar to the effect of the Reichstag fire. Even if you accept that explanation, his words were inexcusably unclear on that point. A casual reading would lead a reasonable observer to conclude he does, indeed, think 9/11 was an inside job.

But reaction to Ellison's words demonstrate that nutballs on the other side of the ledger can actually make their own side come off worse for the encounter, even when dealing with such an easy target as the above.

Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring (LFR), for example -- a semi-prominent member of the conservative blogosphere, with an average of 175 hits a day or so.

Gross' post notes the "scary" similarity between Ellison's use of the Reichstag metaphor and an earlier reference by Abdul Alim Musa, an American black Muslim who supports the Iranian government and is fairly radical, albeit in a nonviolent way.

Except that the use of the Reichstag metaphor is not even remotely surprising. As I noted above, it's an obvious historical reference to make if you want to suggest that the WTC was an inside job perpetrated for political reasons. The fact that two disparate sources refer to it is no more scary than any other mention of common referents. If Alim Musa said "It's raining cats and dogs", would anyone remark on the "scary" fact that many other Americans have used the exact same words?

Gross then segues into his second logical flaw, a comparison of Musa and CAIR's views on Osama bin Laden's role in 9/11. Musa flatly denied bin Laden's role. CAIR (a Muslim advocacy group) simply said (immediately after 9/11) that "if bin Laden was behind it, we condemn him." In Gross' world, that constitutes a "denial" by CAIR that bin Laden was involved -- at least until they were "shamed" into admitting it a couple of months later.

For logical flaw #3, Gross quotes Musa defending Hamas, then quotes CAIR criticizing the closing of a Muslim charity that the administration said supported Hamas. Except that CAIR does not express support for Hamas; it disputes the allegation that the charity supports Hamas militants.

Having made three flawed comparisons, Gross then uses logical flaw #4 to tie it all together with what he apparently thinks is a political version of the transitive property in mathematics:

1. Ellison (remember Ellison? This is a post about Ellison) equals Musa;

2. Musa equals CAIR;

3. Ergo, Ellison equals CAIR.

Except that his definition of "equal to" works something like this:

1. I don't like Bush;

2. Osama bin Laden doesn't like Bush.

3. Therefore, I agree with everything OBL does and says.

That's stupid enough; but Gross takes it one ludicrous degree further, akin to this:

4. OBL speaks Arabic;

5. Lots of Arabs speak Arabic;

6. Therefore, I speak Arabic (because of my connection to them through my supposed total agreement with OBL)

I assure you, I do not speak Arabic. And Gross' post reflects a disregard for facts and logic more breathtaking than anything Ellison said.

That doesn't excuse Ellison, who has a greater responsibility to reason thanks to his seat in Congress. He should make a clear statement on his position regarding 9/11, and stop giving aid and comfort to conspiracy theorists.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't this Congressman nutcase a DEMOCRAT?

Sorry---but I didn't see that mentioned anywhere.


7/09/2007 4:44 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Yep, he is.

I thought everyone knew that.

But I've edited it to add the word.

7/09/2007 5:06 PM  

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