Americans value freedom of religion and hold it dear to their hearts more than any other right. However, Macon is a different story. The headline “U.S. mayor converts to Islam” in early February made international news. Macon seems unhappy about the unwanted attention. I wonder why.

In 1999 Macon made national news when it elected Jack Ellis as its first black mayor in its 176-year history. Ellis received 50 percent-plus-one vote: Enough to be elected. Four years later he received 61 percent of the vote for his re-election. Obviously, people like his leadership style.

Mayor Ellis, who was born in Macon 61 years ago, wants to legally change his name to Hakim Mansour Ellis. Hakim means “wise” in Arabic; Mansour means “victorious.”

His decision to convert to Islam and change his name generated interest from the four corners of the globe. He received thousands of e-mails in just two days. The Telegraph’s message board was littered with hatred and slanderous messages about his newly adopted faith – Islam.

One message read, “pack up and go back home to Africa ASAP.” Another stated, “I hope the 72 virgins awaiting you in heaven are fat and ugly.” Such derogatory and inflammatory remarks should be rejected and denounced by every decent American. It is sad and mind-boggling to read such insults and slurs, especially during Black History Month or any other time.

Mayor Ellis does not need me to defend him. His biography on the Macon city Web site is impressive and speaks for itself. He was named by Georgia Trend Magazine as one of 100 most influential people in Georgia. This man is a brave and patriotic American. He is a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, who served two years in combat and received the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered.

It is interesting to point out that under his leadership, Macon’s Web site was recognized as one the best in the nation by Technology Magazine. That kind of recognition does not seem good enough for Macon, either. Now they attack his freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I would say, “Macon, eat your heart out!”

We live in a free country where black lynching is no longer a favorite pastime. Please Macon, don’t turn back to the time where signs read, “No N-word, no Jews, no dogs allowed.” Besides, your mayor stated Christianity and Islam are compatible. You will never see or hear Muslims go around defaming Christianity or Judaism. Don’t your dare bash Islam!

In America, we respect and hold in high regard soldiers and veterans for their contributions and sacrifices in keeping us free and safe. Mayor Hakim Mansour Ellis deserves that respect and admiration no matter what religion he chooses or what name he adopts.

Before Macon, the Peach State, and the rest of the South rise again, they should start first by rising above racism and religious bigotry and intolerance.

Mahmoud El-Yousseph, a retired Air Force tech sergeant, is a resident of Westerville, Ohio.


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