It was only a matter of time before the right-wing media, untethered to decency, attacked Rep. Keith Ellison for his emotional testimony explaining the dangers of "stoking fears about entire groups for a political agenda."
Elucidating that point before Rep. Peter King's controversial hearings on Muslim radicalization, Ellison - the first Muslim elected to Congress -- grew emotional while telling the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Muslim American who died on September 11, 2001, while trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center, and who was subsequently smeared as a possible terrorist:
Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on 9/11. After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed.
Hamdani's remains were identified in March 2002. In December 2002, The New Yorker explained the circumstances surrounding the months in between Hamdani's death and the identification of his remains:
For a time, his parents thought that Salman was among the thousand or so Muslims detained for security reasons after the attack. Then, to the family's humiliation, the Post splashed his picture on its pages, along with insinuations of collaboration and treason. The Hamdanis protested to their congressman, and even to President Bush. Six months later, Salman's remains were found at the World Trade Center, where, it turned out, he had rushed to save lives, and he was given a hero's burial. [The New Yorker, 12/9/02, accessed via Nexis]
Indeed, on October 12, 2001, News Corp's New York Post ran a story headlined "Missing - or hiding? - mystery of NYPD cadet from Pakistan":
Hamdani was last seen, Koran in hand, leaving his Bayside, Queens home for his job as a research assistant at Rockefeller University, but he never made it to work.
His family distributed missing-person fliers in the fear that the 23-year- old, who is trained as an emergency medical technician, went instead to the World Trade Center to help and was killed.
But investigators for the FBI and NYPD have since questioned the family about which Internet chat rooms he visited and if he was political.
Hamdani, a graduate of Queens College with a biochemistry degree, had been in the NYPD cadet program for three years. He became "inactive" because he needed to work full time, his mother said.
Police sources said he hadn't been to work at the NYPD since April, but he still carried official identification.
One source told The Post: "That tells me they're not looking for this guy at the bottom of the rubble. The thing that bothers me is, if he is up to some tricks, he can walk past anybody [using the ID card]."
To recap, Hamdani disappeared on September 11, 2001. In October, The New York Post published an article questioning whether Hamdani was actually in hiding, reporting that law enforcement officials were asking about what chat rooms he visited and whether he was political. The Post cited an anonymous source speculating that Hamdani might be "up to some tricks." There can be no question that "some people tried to smear his character."
Yet in response to Ellison's testimony, right-wing media figures are calling Ellison a "bigot" and a liar. From the National Review:
Does Ellison's account check out with reality?
No. It is actually pretty close to the opposite of the truth. In fact, six weeks after the September 11 attacks -- before Hamdani's remains were identified, which Ellison implies to be the turning point of public perception -- Congress signed the PATRIOT Act into law with this line included: "Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing." That is, Hamdani was actually singled out for particular high honors among the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.
There's little evidence of the "rumors" of which Ellison speaks, either. Poke around yourself. Go to Google and search for Mohammed Salman Hamdani's name, using various time frames from before today's hearings (say, in the week after the September 11 attack). You'll discover two discordant sets of returns: none for sites and news reports accusing Hamdani of being a terrorist, and many thousands of pages honoring him as a hero while claiming that he was "widely accused" of being a terrorist. [NationalReview.com, 3/10/11]
Apparently if Google doesn't have a record of everything people were saying 10 years ago, it never happened.
Hannity pounced, and Fox Nation was quick to blast the National Review's smear:
In a word, this is repugnant. More so, as the National Review is fully aware of The Post publishing these rumors. They're just unimpressed by this one instance of a well-publicized insinuation that Hamdani was a terrorist in hiding:
So the Post reported 1) that Hamdani's family believed he died in the WTC attacks, 2) that the FBI asked Hamdani's mother a few background questions after a mistaken sighting, and 3) that an unnamed source felt such questioning implied guilt. No doubt, that was hard on the grieving mother. But frankly, this -- a mistaken sighting, and very preliminary investigations of many people, most of whom turn out to be innocent -- is the kind of thing that inevitably happens after a major terrorist attack.
See. This just happens.
Particularly when you think it's OK to smear Muslims.
UPDATE: Shaffer responds with a non-correction:
What I find most revolting is the insinuation that the piece is in some way anti-Muslim. That's just wrong. The whole point is to acknowledge and honor Mohammed Salman Hamdani as a hero, and to celebrate an America that has -- outside of the brief, easily explained, and quickly abandoned curiosity of the FBI -- honored him as such all along, by defending him against Representative Ellison's deceptive political appropriation. Ellison's innuendos were misleading, and his claim that Hamdani wasn't honored until his remains were found was flat out wrong.
If my facts are wrong, I want to correct them. But so far I've mostly seen angry gestures from people who are strangely committed to a dubious narrative of victimization where the facts show a story of inclusion.
Actually, the whole point appeared to be to smear Ellison as a liar and a bigot.
And it is ridiculous for Schaffer to suggest that the one instance he found in his Google search of News Corp. blaring insinuations that Hamdani was a terrorist doesn't count since it was only that one time and is apparently the cost of doing business if you're Muslim in America.
Set aside for a second Shaffer's ridiculous premise that only rumors and insinuations from 2001 that are searchable in Google count. There are many reports from the time detailing suspicions that Hamdani might have been involved in the attack. And many reports from the time Hamdani's remains were identified making clear that those suspicions and insinuations ended for good when his body was found.
Shaffer's story is not one of inclusion; it's one of excusing Muslim smears.