U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) isn’t known for holding his tongue. The outspoken politician’s recent tirades against Rev. Jesse Jackson for “oppressing African Americans” and Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth for overplaying her military service in her campaign have had a polarizing effect on his constituency in Illinois.
But Walsh’s most recent self-admittedly politically incorrect statements have outraged the state’s Muslim communities, who say he’s directing hate speech at a minority group.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village Wednesday, Walsh warned that there is “a radical strain of Islam in this country…trying to kill Americans every week,” which he called a “real threat that is much more at home now than it was after 9/11,” CBS Chicago reports.
“It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin. It’s here,” he said, according to the station.
Walsh also called for an end to political correctness among “godly” representatives willing to oppose the expansion of Islam, which he asserted “is not the peaceful, loving religion we hear about,” according to Salon. That statement was reportedly met with applause.
Muslims in the communities Walsh targeted say they feel threatened by the politician’s remarks, especially in light of the recent shooting in a Sikh temple in nearby Milwaukee.
“When elected officials, trusted by many, indicate that the enemy could be any Muslim living in your neighborhood, it gives rise to xenophobic vigilantism where fearful citizens target other Americans for simply looking different,” Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago, said in a statement.
On Thursday, Walsh’s office released a statement defending his comments:
“We cannot let political correctness blind us to reality. While most Muslims in America and around the world are as peace loving as the rest of us, we would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is a radical minority that simply wants to destroy America and the values that we stand for. A recent Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. How people can dismiss things like that, I don’t understand, but I won’t.”
Walsh also blamed political correctness for the government’s failure to prevent the November 2009 shooting at Fort Hood that killed 13 and wounded dozens, according to the Chicago Tribune. An Army psychologist who was born in the U.S. and is Muslim is currently awaiting trial for the killings.
Jamil Zara, General Secretary at the Midwest Islamic Center Masid Al-Huda in Schaumburg, told the Daily Herald that Walsh’s comments Wednesday have made area Muslims feel like “Islam [is] a punching bag.”