It started as a simple campaign tour to commemorate Sept. 11 and distribute more than 1,000 American flag yard signs in a western Illinois congressional district where the incumbent has been sidelined by Parkinson's disease.
But Republican candidate Andrea Zinga's comments earlier this week about airport profiling and Middle Eastern men has set off a controversy that has angered Muslims in the state.
"Profiling doesn't bother me if we are profiling the people who, with one exception--and that would be Timothy McVeigh--have caused the outrages against our nation and caused the deaths of American citizens," she said, according to an Associated Press story. "We're talking about Middle Eastern men."
But Zinga, who also drew criticism during an unsuccessful 2004 campaign bid when she questioned the failing health of Rep. Lane Evans, said in an interview Thursday that the quote fails to provide the full context of what she was saying.
She said the point she was trying to make is that airlines need to have the freedom to more thoroughly screen any passenger who sets off red flags without worrying about whether they have exceeded any arbitrary ratio for that racial or ethnic group.
"Unfortunately, the preponderance of the terrorist crimes have been done by people from the Middle East," said Zinga, who narrowly won the 17th District primary in March. "But if suddenly your triggers started to show that everyone was, say, an Irish grandmother, then I don't have any problem with you screening as many Irish grandmothers as you need to screen to keep that plane from turning into a weapon of mass destruction."
The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, meanwhile, has condemned Zinga's comments.
"She is misinformed and she is more concerned about votes than issues," said Ahmed Rehab, the group's executive director. "This is language that we tend to hear during elections when candidates feel they can tap into the fears of voters."
A comment Zinga made Tuesday to a Moline television station-- that "the Islamic culture is bent on conquering and subjugating a great deal of the world"--further angered Rehab.
"There's just no excuse for a candidate running for public office in America to not know the difference between the threat of terrorism and the faith of Islam," he said.