Mark Herring among Virginia leaders concerned over anti-Muslim rhetoric

Donald Trump, the Republican Party presidential front-runner since shortly after he announced his campaign this summer, wants a mandatory registry of Muslims.

GOP candidate Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees fleeing war to “rabid dogs.” Roanoke Mayor David Bowers cited the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II in asking for a suspension of allowing Syrian refugees into the area.

The rhetoric appeals to chunks of America but not to some Virginia officials.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring called for a change in tone in a recent posting on Facebook after visiting a Northern Virginia mosque in his former state Senate district.

“Today, I went to the ADAMS Center in Sterling, as I do a few times a year, to see some of my friends in the Muslim community,” he posted Friday .

“They are our friends and neighbors. They are an integral part of our community and they are every bit the Virginians and Americans that my wife, my children, and I are.”

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society is the second-largest mosque in the United States.

Herring cited the freedom to practice religion without fear of reprisal and said what he’s hearing in Virginia and nationally about Muslims echoes “dark chapters” that should not be repeated.

“I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with, and in some cases disgusted by, the deplorable rhetoric I’ve heard from some in our Commonwealth and even a few people who think they are ready to lead our country,” Herring wrote. “What started off as an understandable expression of concern about the safety of our homeland following the tragic attacks in Paris has quickly devolved into a toxic series of statements and ideas that are unworthy of our great nation.”

Herring has visited the mosque about 50 times, spokesman Michael Kelly said.

“He said that he’s made these kinds of visits occasionally over the years when there’s been sort of an uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric because he knows it’s a time when the community is feeling particularly vulnerable and hurting,” Kelly said.

On the evening of Herring’s visit, members of the ADAMS Center joined a rally against the Islamic State in Washington, D.C.

The mosque has welcomed many candidates and officials, said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the board of trustees.

Herring’s visit “during this time was very appreciated in standing up for the principles that Virginia was founded upon,” Jaka said. “Religious freedom.”

Some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks is so weird to hear it’s almost comical, he said.

“You want to laugh it off,” he said.

“We are fellow Americans. We love our country,” he said. “It’s obviously very concerning to us when we hear these un-American ideas (such as) tracking a database of all Muslims.”

Jaka said it reminded him of statements by Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Cain was a GOP presidential contender four years ago and dropped out of the race facing allegations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair. Cain had said Islam was inconsistent with American values.

After his comments, Cain was invited to the ADAMS Center and visited in July 2011 during his campaign.

The ADAMS Center serves more than 6,000 families in the Northern Virginia and D.C. areas.

This story originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.