Wisconsin governor and GOP candidate Scott Walker is facing harsh criticism from American Islamic organizations after claiming that only a “handful” of the world’s Muslims are “reasonable” or “moderate.”
When answering a question at a campaign event in New Hampshire last Friday, Walker launched into a discussion of ISIS, blasting President Barack Obama’s administration for not using the word “radical Islam” to describe the militant group currently terrorizing sections of the Middle East. The governor then attempted to stress the seriousness of ISIS’s threat by listing its various victims.
“It is a war against not only America and Israel, it’s a war against Christians, it’s a war against Jews, it’s a war against even the handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam who don’t share the radical beliefs that these radical Islamic terrorists have,” Walker said.
The assertion that peaceful Muslims are an extreme rarity immediately drew criticism from domestic Muslim groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which demanded Walker apologize.
It’s unpresidential for Walker to make these comments. They’re deeply disturbing.
“It’s unpresidential for Walker to make these comments. They’re deeply disturbing,” Robert McCaw, CAIR’s government affairs manager, told ThinkProgress. “It would be ridiculous to assume that the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are terrorists. That’s like saying there are over 50 radical nations … [and it] signals to other nations that he views them all as suspect.
“It’s about good diplomacy,” he added.
McCaw went on to point out that Walker’s comments are not only numerically inaccurate, but also contradict the efforts of Muslims all over the world to decry extremism and pursue peace — including here in the United States. When several black churches burned to the ground earlier this year, for example, a group of Islamic organization raised over $100,000 to help rebuild — a major feat for the small population of American Muslims. (This, even as Muslim mosques are regularly attacked or subject to suspicious fires.) And when two men who claimed affiliation with ISIS were killed trying to shoot participants at an inflammatory “draw Muhammad” contest in May, American Muslim leaders defended the event organizers’ right to free speech — even if their speech constituted hatred against Muslims.
The Walker campaign eventually released a statement over the weekend that appeared to reverse the governor’s “handful” analogy before pivoting to a critique of Democrats. It stopped short of a formal apology, however.
“The Governor knows that the majority of ISIS’s victims are Muslims,” AshLee Strong, the Walker campaign’s national press secretary, wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. “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.”
The statement did not appease McCaw and CAIR, who noted that it came from Walker’s campaign and not Walker himself. McCaw also argued that Strong’s response did not undue the negative impact of the original quote, which played into anti-Muslim narratives popular among some conservative populations.
“The damage has already been done,” McCaw said. “The candidates that are trying to energize the fringes of their party. The comments are reckless — they’re validating the bigoted views of militant extremists.”
The comments are reckless — they’re validating the bigoted views of militant extremists.
Anti-Islamic rhetoric is commonplace in many right-wing circles, especially militant groups that have called for attacks on American Muslims. In April, police arrested Robert R. Doggart, a former Tennessee congressional candidate, for plotting to commit mass murder against Muslims and destroy a mosque in New York. And in May, a group of bikers brandished guns as they protested outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona, holding anti-Muslim signs and wearing shirts that read “F — Islam.”
But anti-Muslim sentiment is also found among average Republican voters, especially false claims that Muslims — who represent a small fraction of the U.S. population — are taking over U.S. cities. When the National Rifle Association met earlier this year in Nashville, Tennessee, for its annual conference, one presenter purported to have seen evidence of “no-go zones,” or neighborhoods in Europe and America ostensibly controlled by militant Muslims.
Such zones do not actually exist. But that didn’t stop Louisiana Governor and GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal from making the same claim in January — even after he was confronted by a CNN reporter who discredited his assertion.
“The reality is that if people don’t want to be Americans, they shouldn’t come to America,” Jindal said of Muslim immigrants. “They should stay where they are.”
Several high-profile Republican candidates have also attended forums this year hosted by Frank Gaffney, a controversial figure who has publicly asserted that Obama was once a Muslim, argued that the manifesto of Norwegian terrorist and anti-Muslim activist Anders Breivik was a conspiracy to “suppress criticism” of shariah law, and has contended that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the American government. Gaffney’s organization — the Center for Security Policy — has held a trio of events this campaign season, some of which were attended by Cruz, Jindal, Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina. Cruz, Jindal, and Santorum also spoke at the gatherings.
But if the goal of Republican White House hopefuls who embrace anti-Muslim messages is to win elections, they may end up disappointed. A recent study from the Center for American Progress found that campaigns centered on Islamophobia often fall flat at the polls, with voters preferring more inclusive candidates. In fact, McCaw said he only expected to see blatantly islamophobic rhetoric until the end of primary season, after which the Republican party usually nominates a candidate with a less firebrand approach.
“If there is anything to be drawn from this rhetoric, it’s that it teaches us who not to vote for,” he said. “And I believe that majority of Americans agree with me.”