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Interfaith Leaders Call on Scott Walker to Address His Comments that Most Muslims are Extremists
In the Republican campaign Donald Trump is not the only candidate using hateful terminology for whole ethnic groups. Politics based on race and religious hatred should be rejected.
By Annysa Johnson
A coalition of interfaith leaders is calling on Gov. Scott Walker to clarify his recent remarks implying most Muslims are extremists, saying such incendiary rhetoric endangers American Muslims in Wisconsin and across the country. About 30 religious leaders — Muslims, Christians, Jews and others — have signed onto an open letter sent Friday by the president of Wisconsin's largest Islamic organization to the governor and presidential candidate. In it, Ahmed Quereshi, who heads the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, cites FBI intelligence suggesting that homegrown "militia extremists are expanding their target sets to include Muslims and Islamic religious institutions in the United States."
Quereshi said Walker's failure to personally clarify his statement effectively fuels "a new kind of McCarthyism" that singles out followers of Islam. "As you know, there is an 'Islamophobia industry' in this country that seeks to vilify all Muslims and their faith, Islam," said Quereshi. "Allowing your statement to stand 'on the record' without a personal and direct correction by you poses a safety risk to the lives and property of American Muslims, including residents of the State of Wisconsin and their places of worship," he said.
Walker drew criticism last month when he asserted during a campaign stop in New Hampshire that there are a "handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam."
In an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the weekend, Walker's campaign staff reiterated spokeswoman AshLee Strong's August comments clarifying the candidate's remarks. "The Governor knows that the majority of ISIS's victims are Muslims," Strong said at the time. "Muslims who want to live in peace — the majority of Muslims — are the first target of radical Islamic terrorists. Under the Obama-Clinton foreign policy doctrine, we've been abandoning our traditional Muslim allies in the Middle East and allowing ISIS, al Qaeda, and Iran to fill the void," she went on to say.
Walker's campaign staff did not say whether he intended to apologize or to address the issue himself. Quereshi said the campaign's assertion that the "majority of Muslims" want to live in peace is inadequate because it could still be construed that large numbers of Muslims — as many as 49% — are extremists. "It is only a relative handful of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims who support terrorism," he says in the letter. "The vast majority of Muslims are reasonable, moderate and peaceful." The Islamic Society of Milwaukee, he notes, has repeatedly condemned Muslim terrorists, including last year when he and its religious director joined Muslim leaders around the world in denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic.
Signing in support of Quereshi's letter are Islamic organizations around the state, numerous clergy, two bishops and the local heads of the Presbyterian USA and United Methodist churches. Among the signers are the Rev. Jean Dow, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church and former chairman of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Bishop Steven A. Miller of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and Bishop Richard Sklba, retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Quereshi said he personally believes Walker misspoke, but he is troubled by the candidate's unwillingness to personally address his remarks. "I don't think he would intentionally do something that would cause hatred or violence toward American Muslims," Quereshi said. "I just want to see him come forward and make that clarification."
Programs on roots of Islamophobia set
An interfaith coalition of partners, including the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Wisconsin Council of Churches and others, is sponsoring two programs on the roots of Islamophobia this month. Todd H. Green, associate professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and author of "The Fear of Islam," will speak on the causes and consequences of Islamophobia at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Tripoli Shrine Center, 3000 W. Wisconsin Ave. From 8-10 a.m. the following morning, Green will lead a workshop for educators, elected officials, law enforcement, religious leaders, journalists and others, at the Tripoli center. For more information or to register, call (414) 727-4900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annysa Johnson is an award-winning reporter covering faith and spirituality in southeastern Wisconsin. This article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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