One of John McCain’s fellow Vietnam POWs compared Muslims to terrorists during a defense of the Iraq War on Friday, saying “The Muslims have said either we kneel or they’re going to kill us.”
Col. Bud Day riled Muslim leaders with the remarks made in a conference call with reporters arranged by the Republican Party of Florida on McCain’s behalf.
He added: “I don’t intend to kneel and I don’t advocate to anybody that we kneel, and John doesn’t advocate to anybody that we kneel.”
McCain’s presidential campaign wouldn’t comment. A Republican Party spokeswoman said later that Day acknowledged he misspoke and “made an unfortunate mistake” because he meant to say “terrorists” and not “Muslims”.
Muslim leaders and Arab-American groups quickly denounced the “bigoted” comments by Day, a Pensacola resident, Medal of Honor recipient and member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack machine from 2004.
“This is as close to racist as it gets,” said Khaled Saffuri, who helped organize Arab outreach for President Bush’s 2000 campaign. “Even if this is called a mistake or a slip of the tongue, it shows a bigger problem with racism. McCain and the Republican party should denounce this.”
“It’s perpetuating a form of Islamophobia,” said Saif Ishoof, a Miami Republican and president of the Center for Voter Advocacy, a nonpartisan group in Florida that educates Muslims about the political process.
Day’s gaffe on Muslims adds to what the community describes as a sweeping backlash from many directions. Many leaders complain that they have been vilified as terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks launched by a segment of radical extremists who don’t represent the 1.1 billion Muslims worldwide.
More recently, Muslim leaders have criticized Obama for distancing himself from the community as part of an effort to refute false rumors that he is Muslim. When the campaign tried to set the record straight by launching the fightthesmears.com website, Muslims protested that he was calling Islam a “smear”.