July 20, 2005

Muslims question congressman’s comment on Mecca

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressman who suggested the
United States might consider bombing Muslim holy sites,
including Mecca, has drawn apology demands from U.S. Muslim and
Arab groups but rejected a request to meet with one leading

Rep. Tom Tancredo made the comment on July 14 in answer to
a radio host's question about a possible response to any
hypothetical nuclear terrorist attack on the United States.

"If this happens in the United States and we determine that
it is the result of extremist fundamentalist Muslims, you could
take out their holy sites," the Colorado Republican said.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca?" the host asked.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded, according to an audio excerpt
posted online by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a
Washington-based group. A spokesman for the congressman
confirmed the substance of Tancredo's remarks.

The council called for Tancredo to apologize and said in a
statement that council officials were working with leaders of
the Colorado Muslim community to set up a meeting with the

Tancredo's spokesman, Will Adams, said on Wednesday the
lawmaker had no plans to meet with the council because "we
don't think they reflect the majority moderate Muslim community
in the United States." Adams said Tancredo's staff was seeking
meetings with "moderate" Muslim groups in Colorado.

The Arab American Institute also called for an apology.

"This kind of speech from an elected official is harmful to
the war on terror and does not represent the sentiments of the
American people," James Zogby, the Washington-based institute's
president, said in a statement. "Irresponsible language such as
this only widens the gap between the U.S. and Arab and Muslim

Asked if Tancredo planned any further reaction to the
response from Muslim and Arab groups, Adams said, "He's not
advocating that (a strike on Muslim holy sites) as his policy
or U.S policy. I think if he made a mistake in this thing, it
was answering an extreme hypothetical."

This is not the first time a U.S. official has touched off
controversy by offending Arab- and Muslim-Americans. In 2003,
Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin sparked a brief firestorm after
making speeches while in uniform that referred to the war on
terrorism as a battle with "Satan" and said America had been
targeted "because we're a Christian nation."