Controversy over comments about "radical Islam" sprouting up in the suburbs is one political fire that's showing no signs of being doused for Congressman Joe Walsh.
The issue took on new life Friday as a local Muslim organization, at a news conference with other religious leaders, chastised the McHenry Republican for vilifying Muslims and promoting intolerance.
"When he says 'radical' Muslim, who is he talking about? Who gets to define who? Radical is a subjective term," said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "It's taking America backward, not forward. He may or may not be a bigot, but what he said was bigoted."
At a town-hall meeting in Elk Grove Village Wednesday, Walsh warned, "there is a radical stream of Islam in this country, not just over there, that are trying to kill Americans. It is a real threat. It's in Elk Grove, it's in Addison, it's in Elgin."
As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, he is knowledgeable about the issue, Walsh said Thursday in a statement. "While most Muslims in America and around the world are as peace loving as the rest of us, we would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is a radical minority that simply wants to destroy America."
Rehab said Walsh's remarks were particularly hateful after Sunday's massacre of worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, noting that vague demonizations can stoke xenophobia and violence.
"Define the problem, show proof and evidence," Rehab said. "Stop dumbing America down and don't pontificate about that which you are clueless about."
But "the threat we are facing from homegrown jihadist terrorist is real, and Congressman Walsh will not bow down to political correctness and ignore the issue," Walsh spokesman Justin Roth countered Friday.
Walsh, a Tea Partyer, is in a tight race for control of the 8th Congressional District against Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
Duckworth spokesman Kaitlin Fahey said, "these comments demonstrate yet again why is he not fit to hold political office."
Asked about the news conference, Roth emailed that Walsh had no response to CAIR, stating it "had known links to Hamas."
"Is it any wonder why this front group would be upset with a congressman speaking the truth?" Roth said.
Rehab said in an email that the allegation was "malicious in its intention and crooked in its substance."
"His use of the vague qualifier 'radical' to demonize Muslims is emblematic of his deliberate strategy of scaremongering. His use of the vague qualifier 'links' to Hamas, is of the same strategy. Who defines 'radical' and who defines 'links.' In this case, 'links' is another word for guilt by association -- or in CAIR-Chicago's case, non-association."