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updated: 8/24/2012 10:06 PM

Local Muslims spar with Walsh in Lombard

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  • Congressman Joe Walsh didn't back down Friday from his statements that a radical segment of Islam is a threat to national security.

       Congressman Joe Walsh didn't back down Friday from his statements that a radical segment of Islam is a threat to national security.
    Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

  • More than 50 members of the Muslim-American community attended a backyard forum with Congressman Joe Walsh on Friday night in Lombard.

       More than 50 members of the Muslim-American community attended a backyard forum with Congressman Joe Walsh on Friday night in Lombard.
    Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 

A meeting between Republican Congressman Joe Walsh and members of the local Muslim community in Lombard Friday evening -- intended as a forum for mutual understanding -- remained an emotional debate throughout.

The gathering of more than 50 members of the Muslim-American community in the backyard of local Republican official and former York Township Trustee Moon Khan was organized at Walsh's request after many expressed outrage over recent remarks he'd made about America being threatened by a radical strain of Islam.

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Those who attended the meeting hoped for a retraction from Walsh and a promise to refrain from his using such language in the future. They were obviously unsatisfied by Walsh's repeated efforts to clarify his former words without regretting them.

"There is a threat. We cannot let political correctness get in the way of that threat," Walsh said to one speaker. "If you don't believe the threat exists, I respect your opinion, but you and I will never agree."

The point Walsh, a McHenry Tea Partyer, kept repeating was that while the vast majority of Muslim-Americans are good, patriotic, God-fearing people, their religion is being usurped by a small group of radicals trying to recruit individuals to their cause throughout the country.

But the words he seemed to feel were making his point understandable to the attendees were obviously stinging them.

Oak Brook Trustee Asif Yusuf said Walsh's words could create a reality in which all Muslim-Americans remain under some suspicion.

Feroz Ahmed, a financial adviser from Glendale Heights, said an extremist by definition cannot be considered a true Muslim any more than a true Christian.

And Aamir Safdar, a psychiatrist from Lombard, said that as an elected congressman, Walsh has a higher responsibility to avoid language that could make him sound extremist himself.

"As a representative of the people, you have to be very mindful of what's coming out of your mouth," Safdar said.

But Walsh said his belief in a radical strain of Islam is based on the same belief of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

"You don't know more than Janet Napolitano, do you?" Walsh asked one speaker.

But Khan, the host of the event, quoted Napolitano as saying that there are no radical Islamic cells in Elgin, Elk Grove Village and Addison -- contrary to Walsh's claims earlier this month.

Khan said he hosted the event because he felt Walsh's words created as wrongful a portrait of Republicans as of Muslims.

Some Muslim officials and organizations avoided the event because they thought Khan might purport to grant forgiveness too easily to Walsh. But the event was hardly the warm bath for Walsh they suspected.

"I don't think this event is about forgiving anyone," said Shazia Sultan of Oak Brook just before it began. "It's about opening up dialogue."

Walsh said his belief in the goodness of the vast majority of Muslim-Americans was reinforced by the dialogue but that he couldn't ignore that a threat from extremists exists.

"Folks, I'm not going to back down from what I said because there's nothing to apologize for in my heart," he said.

Syed Ahmed, an oncologist who treats patients in Walsh's 8th Congressional District, was among several who said they were leaving feeling disappointed.

"All he had to do is say, 'I'm sorry,'" Ahmed said.

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