The Republican challenger to three-term Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said Monday he's distrusted Islam "for years" and supports the federal government planting human monitors in mosques to track the activity of those practicing the religion there.
Kurt Eckhardt's comments brought swift criticism from Schakowsky and Muslim groups, who described his remarks as inaccurate and dangerous.
"This feeds the cycle of misunderstanding, feeds the cycle of prejudice, feeds the cycle of hate crimes," said Yaser Tabbara, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Tabbara's organization, North America's largest Islamic civil rights group, is working to promote the mainstream Muslim voice, which does not condone violence.
"We are unequivocally opposed to terrorism," he said. "Our religion does not condone it in any way."
In an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, Eckhardt, of Chicago, called the threat of fundamentalist Islamic expansion "profound" and said secular democracies around the world need to become proactive and in some cases pre-emptive against the spread of the groups worldwide.
"No other issue matters if we're dead," Eckhardt said.
The 9th Congressional District represents segments of Chicago's North Side, where Eckhardt lives, as well parts of Des Plaines, Park Ridge and Rosemont.
No Republicans ran for the position in the March primary. Eckhardt agreed to run against Schakowsky after being asked by fellow Republicans.
Eckhardt said terrorist acts were not "aberrational behavior" by a few extreme Muslims but possibly part of a broader culture.
"Where is the voice of reason in the Islamic community?" Eckhardt said. "There is none, except in nations we control."
Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, said terrorism or calls to violence were "not at all" inherent in Islam.
"Going in with the suspicion that every mosque is somehow a breeding ground for terrorism defies all the information," she said.
Kareem Irfan, chair of the Lombard-based Council of Islamic Organizations, noted that 35,000 Muslims congregated peacefully at an Islamic Society of North America convention in Rosemont over Labor Day weekend. Irfan said Islam has 1.25 billion peaceful believers worldwide.
"They have nothing to do with violence and terror," he said.