Rep. Joe Walsh said at a town hall meeting this week in Elk Grove Village that another Sept. 11 was an absolute certainty and that political correctness had blinded government to "a real threat" from within that could strike in virtually any community in the country.
The tea-party backed politician has acquired a reputation for contentious rhetoric during his first term and especially during his tough battle for re-election in a district redrawn by Democrats last year to favor their party.
But Jewish and Christian leaders joining the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations at a news conference Friday said his recent remarks went further and made mosques vulnerable to attacks. The groups called on him to publicly retract his comments and apologize.
"There is no place for hatred, intolerance, divisive rhetoric or Islamaphobia in our community," said rabbi Brant Rosen, of Evanston.
At Wednesday's town hall, Walsh was responding to an audience member who said he wanted to see members of Congress abandon political correctness and stand against what he called the "danger of Islam in America."
"One thing I'm sure of is that there are people here in this country — there is a radical strain of Islam in this country; it's not just over there — trying to kill Americans every week," Walsh said. "It is a real threat. And it is a threat that is much more at home now than it was right after 9/11."
"It's here, it's in Elk Grove, it's in Addison, it's in Elgin, it's here," he said, referring to Chicago suburbs.
Walsh thanked the audience member for his comment and, raising his voice, shouted: "Enough with political correctness," as the audience cheered.
The congressman, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, said political correctness on the part of government allowed the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage to happen.
"Your government was so afraid of doing its job, so afraid of offending Islam that right in front of our noses we saw what was happening in Fort Hood," he said. "And because your government was politically correct, Americans died."
At Friday's news conference, Zaher Sahloul, chairman of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said Walsh's remarks were especially troubling in a state built on immigration.
"Illinois Muslims are your doctors, your architects, your teachers, your cab drivers and your neighbors," he said. "Rep. Walsh's comments about the threat of Muslims among us are racist and hateful. They endanger lives."
Walsh defended his comments in a statement Thursday, saying that although most Muslims in America are peace loving, "we would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is a radical minority that simply wants to destroy America and the values that we stand for."
It's not the first time Walsh has stirred emotions with his public remarks since winning an upset victory in his suburban Chicago district in 2010 as part of a Republican surge in Illinois.
In May, he told a crowd at a town hall meeting that the Democratic Party's "game" is to make Latinos dependent on government just like "they got African-Americans dependent upon government."
He also made headlines when he accused his election opponent, Tammy Duckworth, of talking too much about injuries the Democrat suffered as a pilot in the Iraq War. Duckworth lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down.