Democratic congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, a candidate running for California's open Senate seat, said on Wednesday that "between 5 and 20 percent" of Muslims "have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in any way possible," including through the use of terrorism.
She made the comments during an interview with Larry King on his political show "PoliticKING."
"Certainly 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 percent 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.
Her comments came under fire, with critics calling for everything from an apology to demanding that Sanchez drop out of the Senate race.
Late Friday night, Sanchez issued a response saying that she did not intend to slight the entire Muslim community, and that she respects Muslims in general.
“I want to reiterate that my reference to those numbers does not reflect my views of the Muslim community in my district, in America or the vast majority of Muslims around the world," Sanchez said in a statement to Fox News Latino. "I believe that Muslim Americans are fully committed to the security and prosperity of our country."
A caliphate is an Islamic state, a unified Muslim community operating under Sharia law, led by a caliph – a political and religious leader seen as the successor to the Islamic prophet Mohammad. The terror group ISIS has declared itself a caliphate.
“They are not content enough to have their way of looking at the world, they want to put their way on everybody in the world,” said Sanchez, who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer. “And again, I don’t know how big [a percentage] that is, depending on who you talk to, but they are ... willing to go to extremes. 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."
The liberal activist group Courage Campaign has called on Sanchez to drop out of the Senate race, according to the Los Angeles Times and an immigrant rights group is calling for an apology.
“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 to the LA Times. “We expect California's representatives to uphold our values of inclusion and diversity, not trample them. We call upon Rep. Sanchez to immediately apologize.”
A spokesperson for Sanchez, who is a senior member of the Congressional Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, reemphasized in a statement to Politico that there are varying estimates as to how many Muslims support a caliphate.
“I strongly support the Muslim community in America and believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support terrorism or ISIS. We must enlist the voices of the Muslim community in our fight against ISIS instead of alienating them through fear-mongering and discrimination," Sanchez said in the statement.
Sanchez made the comments in response to King asking why President Barack Obama refuses to refer to terrorist acts by ISIS and others as "radical Islamic terrorism."
The representative answered, "I don’t fault the president on his verbiage, I want him to understand and go after this ISIL, ISIS DAESH state that people are trying to form, because it’s going after us."