First Muslim Congressman Won't Address Muslim Group After All

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, will not address a meeting of a controversial Islamic organization Saturday even though the group has been advertising since the election that he would be the keynote speaker.

The Council on American Islamic Relations announced Nov. 9 that Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, would be the keynote speaker at the group's annual banquet on Nov. 18.

The announcement also revealed that the speaker lineup is to include Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings and Albert Wynn, both of Maryland, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

However, Bridget Cusick, a spokeswoman for Ellison, told Cybercast News Service Wednesday that Ellison had never accepted the group's invitation and was never scheduled to appear at the banquet.

"We have four events in the state that day and they've been on the calendar for a long time," she said. "The invitation was extended to us and somewhere in translation between our scheduler and the conversation that had happened about it with someone else, there was just a miscommunication."

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, told Cybercast News Service that Ellison was still listed on the banquet schedule because he would address the group through a videotaped message.

Cusick said she was unaware of the videotaped appearance. "He's been in D.C. all week, and I've been back here, so if that conversation happened, I'm unaware of it," she said of Ellison, who has been in the nation's capital for freshman orientation. "I'm certainly not saying it's not true, but it is something I'm unaware of."

Ellison also skipped a White House reception for new members of Congress Monday, opting instead to meet with labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, according to the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis.

CAIR leaders and members donated money to Ellison's campaign to help make him the first Muslim with a seat in the U.S. House. The group's support drew criticism from Ellison's opponents, Republican Alan Fine and Independent Tammy Lee.

Fine pointed out in campaign material that "Democrats say [CAIR] has deep ties to terrorism," and featuring quotes from Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) suggesting that CAIR has links to terrorist or suspect groups in the Middle East.

While Cusick said the no-show at CAIR's banquet was "not a snub," Cusick was quick to distance Ellison from the group.

"There was a lot of talk about that, but it sort of took on a life of its own about him being supported by the organization, but it simply never happened," Cusick said.

"He received donations from individual members of the organization," she explained, "but no organizational support."

Even so, CAIR did defend Ellison from what it called "Muslim-bashing smears" in October.

CAIR Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed issued a statement on the group's website saying that "a handful of right-wing bloggers, agenda-driven commentators and political operatives have used scurrilous smear tactics in an attempt to derail his campaign and to marginalize American Muslim voters."

CAIR's website also hosts numerous news articles related to Ellison's campaign -- including articles that do not mention the group itself.

After the election, CAIR issued news releases congratulating Ellison and thanking American Muslim voters "for turning out at the polls in Minnesota and nationwide to support candidates of either major party who address their concerns."

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