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MSNBC "The Ed Show" - Transcript

Interview

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Let`s turn to Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who was also the first Muslim member of Congress. Congressman, good to have you here tonight.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

KLEIN: The Bush administration understood the value of diplomacy in the Muslim world, and in particular of keeping relations with the Muslim world strong, because of possible dangers to America of letting the country fall into anti-Muslim sentiment or letting anti-American sentiment prosper overseas. From your perch in Congress today, is what happened today an aberration? Is it just part of the campaign? Or is that project of the Bush administration`s being lost in our politics?

ELLISON: Well, I mean, I think that the Bush administration did do a number of things that are commendable. President Bush even visited a mosque, had Muslims at the White House, publicly stood up for Muslim civil rights in the wake of 9/11, and said, look, this act was done by some despicable criminals, not Muslims. And he even referred to Islam as a -- as one of the great world religions.

So, I mean, I think that President Bush has a lot of -- a lot of credibility there. This other thing that came out is a little bit disturbing. I think it has got to be chalked up to campaign rhetoric. And unfortunately -- hopefully, folks will learn from it.

I mean, here`s the reality, Ambassador Chris Stevens is not even buried yet. He has a grieving widow, a grieving family. And the other three persons who lost their lives, two of them haven`t even been identified. One has.

And to start making partisan play out of this tragedy, at this point, is insensitive.

KLEIN: Going forward -- and as you say, it is a delicate moment. What needs to be done under either president in terms of outreach to the Muslim world? I mean, it`s -- there is an understandable tension here in the foreign policy, where people look at things like this, and they look at these mobs that gather for a Youtube video. And they say, how is it our job to placate that?

But on the other hand, the commander in chief needs to worry about the diplomats and the troops and the Americans out in the field. How do you navigate that tension?

ELLISON: Well, the reality is that there were Libyans who were helping to fight and defend the consulate. I mean, I`ve been to Libya since the liberation. And the group -- the delegation I was with was very well received. I mean, this is a -- it is a mob, but it`s not representative of Libyan society. Neither is the mob in Egypt representative of Egyptian society.

Now, we see that imagery on TV, and we think, well, this is the whole country or this is most people. It really isn`t. And I think it`s important, you know, for us to just acknowledge that, you know, if the rest of the world judged us by recent events in Milwaukee and in Aurora, and in, you know, in Tucson, when my friend Gabby Giffords was shot down, I mean, they would judge us harshly, if that`s the only evidence they had to go by.

But we don`t have a lot of evidence to go by. But we`ve got to know that those societies, particularly Libya, is not an anti-American society.

And in fact, Libyans fought to help defend the consulate when it was under
attack.

KLEIN: You were mentioning a moment ago that you were in Libya recently. I know you have traveled in that region and followed it closely.

What is your sense of where the Arab Spring is going at this point? Both Egypt and Libya are countries that had very, very dramatic changes of regime. It`s not entirely clear how the political ground will settle.

What does today say about where it`s going? Or does it say really nothing about where it`s going, as of yet?

ELLISON: Well, today`s events, you know, I think should and can only be considered a setback, but I would say the overall trend, I would say, is cautiously optimistic. There have been successful elections in Libya and in Egypt and in Tunisia. And there has been -- and in Morocco. And we`ve seen a number of positive developments.

Now, there will be fits and there will be starts. I mean, if we examine our own history, it wasn`t a straight line toward democracy from the moment of Declaration of Independence. There were bumps and bruises up and down. But the reality is that they`ve gone through some pretty amazing political changes, and I think are making steady progress towards free democratic society.

Now, it`s not going to look just like in the United States. But I do think at the end of the day, we`ve got to embrace the change and stay the course.

KLEIN: Congressman Keith Ellison, thank you very much for being here tonight.

ELLISON: Thank you.

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