MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (The Tennessean) - Muslims nationwide called for state officials in Tennessee to rebuke state Rep. Rick Womick for remarks he made that all Muslims be removed from the U.S. military.
Saleh Sbenaty of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, went further, saying Womick "needs to be impeached immediately."
Womick, though, stood by his comments and offered no apology when contacted byThe Daily News Journal.
"Who are we at war with?" Womick said. "We are at war with al-Qaida and the Taliban, who are Muslims. It's a Catch-22. They are not allowed to kill their fellow Muslims; we're at war with Muslims. The only solution I see is that they not be allowed in the military."
Womick, R-Rockvale, set off a cascade of criticism for remarks that he made during an interview with Eli Clifton of thinkprogress.org Friday at an anti-Shariah conference in Nashville.
"Personally, I don't trust one Muslim in our military," Womick said in the interview. "If they truly are a devout Muslim and follow the Quran and the Sunnah, then I feel threatened because they're commanded to kill me."
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the Tennessee General Assembly to formally rebuke Womick for calling for removal of all Muslims from the military.
CAIR also called on state and national Republican Party leaders to repudiate Womick's bigoted "un-American" comments.
Womick said Saturday that he has no opinion on what CAIR had to say.
"They are a radical Islamic group," said Womick, who fought as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the first Gulf War to force Iraq's military out of Kuwait in 1990-91. "Whatever they have to say, I choose to ignore."
Womick's comments particularly bother Islamic Center of Murfreesboro member Saleh Sbenaty.
"It's really sad to see Mr. Womick's comments coming on Veterans Day," said Sbenaty, a 19-year MTSU professor in the Department of Engineering Technology. "He needs to be reminded that there are thousands of Muslims who serve and are serving (in the U.S. military), and there are many of them who gave up their lives to preserve the freedom of this country and the freedom that he is enjoying."
'Narrow vision' decried
A Friday story on the website Muslims for a Safe America estimates that between 5,000 to 20,000 Muslims out of6 million who live in the United States serve in a U.S. military that has a force of 1.4 million.
"Hundreds of American Muslim soldiers have been involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since9/11," the website states.
A New York Times story published Nov. 8, 2009, reported that 3,557 military personnel identified themselves as Muslim among 1.4 millionpeople in the active-duty population, according to U.S. figures.
Sbenaty suggested that Womick is just as extreme as al-Qaida is.
"Al-Qaida doesn't believe in freedom of religion," Sbenaty said. "They want to rule the world according to their views. And Mr. Womick wants to rule the United States according to his narrow vision."
Sbenaty worries that rhetoric such as Womick's can lead to more attacks against his congregation. In August 2010, someone set earth-moving equipment on fire at the congregation's future mosque location on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike. The congregation also faced a bomb threat just before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
"We had to cancel a kids play and the weekend school because of the bomb threat," said Sbenaty, who feels Womick should be held accountable for his remarks.
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Scott Broden, The Tennessean