Capitol Alert

Muslim leaders want California lawmaker to apologize for remarks

Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, during session in the Assembly on March 11, 2013.
Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, during session in the Assembly on March 11, 2013. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California Muslim leaders are calling on a state assemblywoman to apologize and retract an online comment she made about Islam.

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, took to Twitter earlier this week to voice her outrage over the killing of American humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, who was taken hostage by the Islamic State prior to her death. Melendez, a U.S. Navy veteran, called the news “gut wrenching.”

Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Sacramento, characterized the hashtag, #standupagainstIslam, as “hateful,” and called on Melendez to apologize and then meet with her Muslim constituents.

“It’s one thing to stand against terrorists,” he said, “but to stand against Islam, the faith of 1.6 billion people worldwide, is another.”

Elkarra said anti-Islamic rhetoric has consequences, and noted that Melendez’s tweet came on the same day that three Muslim students of Arab descent were killed near the University of North Carolina. Their families have called their shootings a hate crime.

“Hate ... has consequences,” said Elkarra, who said he was familiar with one of the victims. “It comes at a cost for our community.”

Sarah Moussa, chair of the state Democratic Party’s Arab American Caucus, said Melendez’s comments painting all members of the Islamic faith with a broad brush were “profoundly misguided and deeply offensive.”

“She is a state Assembly member, and a comment like that reaches the entire nation,” Moussa said, also noting the shooting near Chapel Hill.

“It’s been a really sad and challenging week, and comments (like) these are very sad and concerning to us.”

Melendez issued a statement late Thursday, but didn’t apologize.

“It was never my intention to offend peaceful Muslims,” she said. “However, I’ve had enough of Islamic extremists and terrorists who oppress women and burn people alive in the modern world. This isn’t about hash tags, it’s about America standing up with our allies and putting an end to the barbaric behavior we are witnessing around the world.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 9 a.m. Feb. 13 to clarify a remark by Elkarra.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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