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Islamophobia : No apology for comments on Muslims, immigration, Goode says

Rep. Virgil Goode goes on national television over a letter about Muslim immigrants.
By Mason Adams, roanoke.com

ROCKY MOUNT -- Controversy surrounding Congressman Virgil Goode continued to grow Thursday, as he appeared on national television and refused to apologize for a letter in which he wrote that he did not want to see more Muslims coming to the United States.

Goode (picture) wrote the letter to constituents who were concerned about Minnesota congressman-elect Keith Ellison's wishes to be photographed for a ceremonial swearing-in with a Quran and not a Bible. In it, Goode wrote that he wants to end the "diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."

During a nationally televised interview Thursday with David Asman on Fox News, Goode acknowledged the story had "gathered steam and momentum" since his letter first appeared on the Internet earlier in the week.

During a press conference open only to regional media, Goode defended his comments within the letter.

"I do not apologize, and I do not retract my letter," Goode said. "The letter stands for itself."

And he rebutted assertions that his statements about Muslims were racist.

"I would suggest anyone that uses that word in describing me to read the letter," Goode said. "There's no discrimination in this letter, unless you take the position that reducing immigration is discrimination."

He targeted the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a congressionally mandated program that brings 50,000 immigrants to the United States per year. The U.S. State Department's Web site indicates the 2007 lottery resulted in the approval of 1,361 immigrants from Iran and 80 from Iraq, among other countries.

Goode said he supports a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County, to end the program.

Goode's press conference, which took place in the Franklin County Courthouse, was secured by a number of county sheriff's deputies. Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. "Quint" Overton said Goode had requested the security because he wanted to ensure that only members of the media attended. The only person turned away was Joe Stanley, the chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Committee.

Overton said Goode had received threats. Goode declined to comment on that matter.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Goode's colleagues in the House of Representatives condemned him for the letter. Among them was U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Alexandria, who released a statement calling Goode's letter "anti-Muslim.

"Bringing more Muslim-Americans into the political process is a goal, not something to be avoided," Moran wrote.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Ellison said Goode "has a lot to learn about Islam."

Response from those within Goode's district was decidedly more mixed. Comments on message boards were divided, with many posters supporting Goode and praising him for his stance. And Goode told Asman he'd heard "more positive than negative" responses from constituents.

But just down the street from Goode's press conference in Rocky Mount, one Muslim businessman said he didn't think continued legal immigration would hurt the country.

Mamdouh Mohamed Ibrahim moved to Rocky Mount from Egypt six months ago to help his brother run Hema's, an Italian restaurant.

"It's not going to be a big deal to have a lot of Muslims in the country," Ibrahim said. "We're all the same blood. I have a heart, you have a heart. What's the difference?

"We don't try to make anyone Muslim by force or by power. It's freedom to do as you like."

Ibrahim also said he didn't see the need for Ellison to swear on a Quran. And he said he wasn't offended by Goode's statement in the letter refusing to put anything about the Quran on his office wall.

"It doesn't matter if it's on the wall," Ibrahim said. "It matters from here -- from the heart."

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