As Keith Ellison heads into his first term in Congress, he faces a balancing act between his duty to constituents and the inevitable pressure his new prominence creates to be a spokesman for all American Muslims.

Already the balancing act is evident for Congressman-elect Keith Ellison.

The newly elected Democrat has two agenda items this week in Washington: He starts orientation today. Then on Saturday he will be the keynote speaker at the annual banquet for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that was a flashpoint in the fall campaign.

Five years after 9/11 and with an ongoing raw debate about clashing civilizations and Islamic extremism, Minnesota voters made history by sending the first Muslim to Congress. Ellison downplayed the role of religion in his drive for office, and he insists that residents of Minneapolis and its Fifth District suburbs will come first. He nonetheless acknowledges his overnight status change, pulling him to be a spokesman for Islam in America.

His views on the Middle East are expected to carry more weight than a typical freshman’s, and Ellison already is hoping to make two trips to the Middle East, one to Israel and another to Iraq.

“By default he will become a national symbol in the Muslim community and a voice heard around the world, the message being America is open to all people, including Muslims,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR.


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