In a testy two-hour town hall meeting, North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick argued Thursday night that the threat of homegrown Islamist terrorism is real and defended herself against charges by local Muslims that she was spreading fear about their religion.
Using charts, maps, handouts and even a video slamming a Charlotte TV station, the Charlotte Republican told the crowd of about 175 people, most of them Muslims, that she has never condemned Islam or linked moderate Muslims with terrorism.
"I'm talking about the sympathizers and supporters of a radical agenda," she said. "It's not that all Muslims are bad or all Muslims are trying to do this."
Hoping to repair her relations with a Muslim community that has taken her comments over the years as inflaming hatred, Myrick said she agreed to the town hall meeting to "build bridges" with her Muslim constituents. She invited them to join her in opposing those who she said were "trying to hijack" Islam.
Several Muslim speakers at the Government Center in uptown Charlotte commended Myrick for sponsoring the beginning of a dialogue, and invited her to follow-up sessions at mosques around town.
Still, many of the questions and comments from Muslims showed an anger that has simmered for years over often-provocative comments by Myrick, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
In 2003, for instance, she seemed to suggest that convenience stores run by Muslims might be havens for homegrown terrorists.
Najeeb Karimi criticized the eight-term congresswoman for writing the foreword to a book — "Muslim Mafia" — whose researcher called Islam a disease. Karimi also asked Myrick why she has not been as devoted to wiping out and labeling other forms of homegrown terrorists, such as the Texas man who recently flew his plane into a federal building in Austin to protest the IRS.
"Is this terrorism?" he asked Myrick. "(Oklahoma City bomber) Timothy McVeigh? Is that Christian terrorism? . . . Islam stands for peace."
Businessman Izzat Saymeh told Myrick that he and other Muslims "feel threatened by inflammatory rhetoric" from right-wing groups — some of whom have praised Myrick's stands.
"It would go a long way if you would speak out against the anti-Islamic hate that's going on in our district and elsewhere," he said.
Myrick took the opportunity Thursday to explain her 2003 comment casting suspicion on convenience store operators. She said it came after a high-profile case in Charlotte that tied cigarette-smuggling and money-laundering to Hezbollah, a Lebanese military organization that the United States has labeled a terrorist group.
"So I wasn't off the wall," she said. "It may have come across that way, but you have to put it in context." Myrick also charged that the news media has distorted some of her other comments, to make them sound as if she was attacking Islam as a religion.
Read more of this story at CharlotteObserver.com