Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a candidate in California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race, is taking heat for comments about Muslims that some have deemed offensive.
Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, was on PoliticKING with Larry King on Thursday to discuss U.S. efforts against the so-called Islamic State. Early in the segment, she said “we shouldn’t look at people in a one-dimension way – in other words, this is not against all Muslims, this is not about Muslims in our country, many of them are helping us in this heroic fight against ISIS.”
But soon after the first commercial break, King asked Sanchez to discuss President Obama’s hesitance to deem acts like last week’s San Bernardino shooting as “radical Islamic terrorism” – a term many experts say plays into ISIS’ hands by casting this as a holy war.
“We know that there is a small group – and we don’t know big that is, that can be anywhere between 5 and 20 percent from the people that I speak to – that Islam is their religion and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in any way possible, and in particular go after what they consider Western norms, our way of life,” she said. “They are not content enough to have their way of looking at the world, they want to put their way on everybody in the world. And again, I don’t know how big that is, depending on who you talk to, but there certainly, they are willing to go to extremes, they are willing to use – and they do use – terrorism, and it is in the name of a very wrong way of looking at Islam.”
Estimates of ISIS’ fighting force range from 32,000 to 200,000, though that number doesn’t include radical Islamic fundamentalists elsewhere. But the Pew Research Center estimates there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010, making up 23 percent of the world’s population, and it is the world’s fastest-growing religion. In the United States, there are an estimated 1.8 million Muslim adults, just under 1 percent of the nation’s adult population.
Eddie Kurtz, executive director the California-based liberal grassroots Courage Campaign, issued a statement Friday urging Sanchez to quit the Senate race.
“America is a melting pot – and California is the most diverse place in the nation – with more than 388,000 Muslims living as our neighbors and friends across our state. For Rep. Sanchez to suggest that even 5 percent of them would resort to violence is the sort of racist, idiotic nonsense we expect from Donald Trump and right-wing Republicans,” Kurtz said.
“While Rep. Sanchez has a legacy of leadership, these comments make it clear that she does not have the skills, or the judgment to represent our beautiful state and all its peoples in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
The California Immigrant Policy Center demanded an apology.
“At a time when bigoted, Islamophobic rhetoric is spurring troubling incidents of hate across the country – including in Orange County – Representative Loretta Sanchez’ wildly off-the-mark claims are irresponsible and dangerous,” said Reshma Shamasunder, the center’s executive director. “We expect California’s representatives to uphold our values of inclusion and diversity, not trample them. We call upon Rep. Sanchez to immediately apologize.”
Other candidates seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in next year’s election include California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat; Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside; former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette; and former state GOP chairman Duf Sundheim of Los Altos Hills.
UPDATE @ 12:07 P.M.: Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles has now weighed in, too, blasting both Sanchez and LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich; the latter, in a speech to constituents after the shooting, had said, “The first thing I asked about this incident, was the guy named Mohammad?”
“In the most diverse state in the nation, California’s political leaders must uphold our cherished principles of tolerance and diversity and strive for unity, not divisiveness,” said Karin Wang, the group’s vice president. “We call upon both Representative Sanchez and Supervisor Antonovich to apologize. Their recent comments will serve only to jeopardize the safety of not just Muslim communities but also other South Asian and Middle Eastern communities, as we have already seen from the attack this past weekend against a Sikh temple in Buena Park.”
UPDATE @ 12:48 P.M.: The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American Islamic-Relations now has condemned Sanchez’s comment, too.
“California Muslims are disappointed by the harmful statement made by Rep. Loretta Sanchez about Muslims,” said CAIR-LA spokesman Haroon Manjlai. “Using inaccurate polls that reinforce false stereotypes about the Muslim community, at a time when right-wing bigots are calling for fascist measures against Muslims, is inexcusable, and even more perplexing considering she represents a large Muslim constituency and has had the opportunity to learn how peaceful and patriotic that community is.”
Polls have repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims, more than any other religious community in the nation, see no justification for violence, he noted.
“While Congresswoman Sanchez’s record on civil rights, especially with the American Muslim community, is praiseworthy, public discourse is not advanced by the use of biased polls that fuel paranoia,” Manjlai said. “In the face of terrorism that knows no faith or morals, we expect our elected leaders to unite us, celebrate our rich diversity, and protect our pluralism. We call on Congresswoman Sanchez to discredit and reject this, and other bias motivated studies that aim to malign Muslims.”
UPDATE @ 1 P.M.: Sanchez’ campaign has just issued a statement, but not an apology.
“Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is not withdrawing from the U.S. Senate race. California voters will decide who the Senator will be in the 2016 election,” reads the statement sent by spokesman Luis Vizcaino. “I trust they will elect the only candidate with national security experience – Loretta Sanchez is that candidate.”