California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said as many as 20 percent of Muslims desire to form an Islamic caliphate, “to institute that in any way possible,” and go after Western norms, “our way of life.”
“We know that there is a small group, and we don’t know how big that is – it 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 Western norms,” Sanchez said on the program “PoliticKING with Larry King.”
“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,” she added. “And again, I don’t know how big that is, and depending on who you talk to, but they are certainly, they are willing to go to extremes. They are willing to use and they do use terrorism.”
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion with an estimated 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the world’s population, according to the Pew Research Center. Taking Sanchez’s high estimate, that would be 320 million Muslims want to caliphate and are willing to resort to extremes and terrorism to satisfy their goal. Academics said the number is exceedingly difficult to know because there are no worldwide surveys but they questioned the range she provided as overly broad and likely too high.
The Christian Science Monitor, in a report on Muslim extremists, cited the research of Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the RAND corporation, who while researching a book he co-authored called “Euro Jihad,” found Western European intelligence agencies estimated less than 1 percent of the Muslim population living there were at risk for becoming radicals.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California did not return messages seeking comment.
Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman who serves on the Homeland Security Armed Services committees, sought to clarify the remarks in a later email from her office.
In the statement, Sanchez pointed to her original comments which included the caveat “we don’t know how big that is.” Her office said various sources claim a wide range of percentages when speculating about the number of Muslims in the world who support the idea of a caliphate, a form of Islamic government, “which doesn’t mean that they support actual terrorism.”
“I strongly support the Muslim community in America and believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support terrorism or ISIS,” Sanchez said in the statement. “We must enlist the voices of the Muslim community in our fight against ISIS instead of alienating them through fear-mongering and discrimination.”
Sanchez, D-Orange, is running for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Sanchez’s chief rival in the contest is Attorney General Kamala Harris, the early frontrunner, though the race also includes a trio of Republicans. She has been making the rounds on television since last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, advocating for stronger gun-control legislation and defending President Barack Obama’s strategy of defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
A dynamic speaker who sometimes veers off-script, Sanchez has in the past been forced to later explain her comments and actions. In May, she apologized after making a mocking cliché of American Indians. Her on-air speculation about the number of Muslims willing to use terror follows widespread condemnation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”