Capitol Alert

Rep. Loretta Sanchez urged to apologize for comments about Muslims

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, second from left, autographs a California Senate race campaign poster for an unidentified supporter at the California Democratic Party state convention in Anaheim in May.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, second from left, autographs a California Senate race campaign poster for an unidentified supporter at the California Democratic Party state convention in Anaheim in May. AP

Muslim, liberal and immigrant rights activists issued forceful rejoinders Friday to Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s assertions about the potentially high number of Muslims worldwide who are willing to go to extremes, including using terrorism, to disrupt “our way of life.”

Sanchez, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said that between 5 and 20 percent of Muslims want to form a caliphate to target Western norms.

“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,” Sanchez said on “PoliticKING with Larry King.” “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.”

The Council on American Islamic-Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, said it was disappointed in the statement, which the organization said was based on a flawed poll. Haroon Manjlai, CAIR-LA’s public affairs coordinator, said it was perplexing considering Sanchez represents a large Muslim constituency and “has had the opportunity to learn how peaceful and patriotic that community is.”

“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,” he said.

Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, denounced Sanchez’s claims as “wildly off-the-mark,” and urged 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,” Shamasunder said. “We expect California's representatives to uphold our values of inclusion and diversity, not trample them. We call upon Rep. Sanchez to immediately apologize.”

Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the liberal Courage Campaign in California went further, demanding Sanchez withdraw from the U.S. Senate race, saying for her “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.”

Sanchez’s estimates would mean that between 80 million and 320 million Muslims want to caliphate and are willing to resort to extremes and terrorism to satisfy their goals. Academics told The Bee on Thursday the number is difficult to determine because there are no worldwide surveys, but they questioned the range Sanchez provided as overly broad and likely too high. Meantime, some conservatives are seemingly coming to her defense.

A veteran congresswoman who serves on the Homeland Security Armed Services committees, Sanchez sought to clarify the remarks in an email Thursday but stopped well short of issuing an apology. 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.”

On Friday, as criticism increased, she issued a second statement saying she had spoken with members of the Muslim community to address their concerns about her interview.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Sanchez’s Democratic opponent in the Senate race, has not reacted to the comments.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago