Religious Leaders Demand Apology from West for Anti-Islam Comments

An interfaith group of religious leaders has sent a letter to freshman Republican Allen West of Florida, calling him to apologize for anti-Islam remarks he made recently on an episode of “The Shalom Show.”

On the program, he said that his congressional colleague Keith Ellison, who is one of two Muslim members of Congress, is the “antithesis of the principles on which this country was established.”

The signatories to the letter include the Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance; Rabbi Jack Moline, Director of Public Policy for The Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Rev. J. Brent Walker, Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

From the letter:

In a recent interview with the “Shalom Show,” you underscored that your mission is to represent and uphold the values of your constituents; this is an unquestionably noble goal. However, your subsequent statement that Representative Keith Ellison, one of your colleagues in the House of Representatives, is the “antithesis of the principles on which this country was established” because he is Muslim, shows a frightening lack of understanding for these values. Regardless of the specific “principles” you intended to reference, it is an indisputable fact that one of those principles is religious freedom for all, memorialized in the United States Constitution—including, of course, Article VI’s prohibition on any religious test for public office. Your remarks disrespect not only your Muslim colleagues in the Congress, but also all of your constituents of the Muslim faith. This is neither appropriate, nor true to the American values that you reference.

Regrettably, this is just the latest example of your tendency to offer intemperate comments about Islam. At a town hall meeting during your campaign, you characterized Islam as America’s enemy and asserted, “Islam is a totalitarian, theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion.” Such untrue and inflammatory remarks intensify an unsettling trend of anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear in our country. They are also likely to confuse your constituents as to the differences between radical, Islamic extremists and non-violent adherents to Islam. Many peaceable Muslims live in your district and two serve alongside you in the House of Representatives. At a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to promote dialogue, understanding and civility in the public forum.

The whole video is here. Notably, it also includes West’s views on the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict: “we cannot create another state, a quote, unquote Palestinian state, that would be nothing but another terrorist state.”

West, who went on to extol American exceptionalism in the interview, was fined by the U.S. military in 2003 for his involvement in the use of “improper methods” to get information from an Iraqi detainee that military prosecutors said amounted to torture. West retired for the military and first ran for Congress last year.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email