Rep. Loretta Sanchez responds to criticism over comment on Muslims

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is trying to beat back criticism over a comment she made about the percentage of  Muslims who support a caliphate — the establishment of a strict Islamic state — to defend and advance their religious ideology.

Sanchez, a Democrat from Santa Ana who sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Armed Services Committee, made the comments on “PoliticKING with Larry King,” this week in the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino that killed 14.

“We know that there is a small group, and we don’t know how big that is — it can be anywhere between 5 and 20%, from the people that I speak to — that Islam is their religion and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in any way possible, and in particular go after what they consider Western norms — our way of life,” Sanchez said during the interview. "They are willing to use, and they do use, terrorism, and it is in the name of a very wrong way of looking at Islam."

Sanchez currently is running to succeed the retiring Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. On Friday the liberal activist group Courage Campaign called on her to drop out of the race, and she also faced criticism by an immigrants rights group and the Council on Islamic-American Relations.

“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,” Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center in Oakland, said in statement. “We expect California's representatives to uphold our values of inclusion and diversity, not trample them. We call upon Rep. Sanchez to immediately apologize.”

Sanchez spokeswoman Emily Morris said Sanchez, during the interview, emphasized that no one knows how many Muslims support the idea of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

“Different sources claim a wide range of percentages (one of the numbers that Rep. Sanchez was referring to) when speculating about the number of Muslims who allegedly support the theological idea of a caliphate, which doesn’t mean that they support actual terrorism,” Morris said in an email.

FULL COVERAGE: Terror attack in San Bernardino >>

Morris said the source of the estimated  5% to 20% of Muslims possibly supporting a caliphate came from the book “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue” by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris, which was published by Harvard University Press this year.

During the same Larry King interview, Sanchez also said that many American Muslims are assisting the county's fight against Islamic State and other terrorist groups. 

Sanchez has since put out a statement saying she supports American Muslims and believes the overwhelming majority oppose terrorism.

“I strongly support the Muslim community in America and believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support terrorism or ISIS,” Sanchez stated, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We must enlist the voices of the Muslim community in our fight against ISIS instead of alienating them through fear-mongering and discrimination.”

 Follow @philwillon on Twitter for the latest news on California politics.

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