Rick Allen, the Republican challenger to Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), was unwilling to participate in a debate last weekend at an Islamic community center, calling it a “suspect venue,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Wednesday.
Allen’s campaign released a statement explaining his unwillingness to debate at the community center that called into question “Barrow’s obviously close association with the head of the Islamic Center,” according to the newspaper.
Because of that, Saturday’s debate, which was moderated by a local newspaper publisher, was eventually moved to a much smaller venue in Evans, Ga., outside of Augusta.
The AJC reported that the event’s sponsor, Taufiq Lakhany, president of the Islamic Society of Augusta, which is based at the community center, opened the debate with comments about the Muslim community in Augusta.
“Everyone knows that the Muslim community in Augusta is educated and quite successful, and we’ve been an asset to the community,” Lakhany said. “We are on this side of the Atlantic, not the other side.”
According to the paper, the final question of the debate was of particular interest to the gathered crowd. It asked both candidates how they would help their colleagues in Congress understand that not all Muslims are terrorists.
“I think I do it by example, by treating every law-abiding citizen alike,” Barrow said. “That’s what the Framers intended. That’s what we should do.”
He also reminded the audience that it wasn’t his idea to change the debate’s venue.
Allen then issued his response.
“I think that John Barrow should be asked the question, ‘Why he insisted that the debate be in the Islamic Center?'” Allen said. “The idea behind this is, we want to make everybody feel welcome at every facility, okay?”
He then addressed the original question — sort of.
“What I want, from everyone who is a citizen in this country, is to speak out – and to speak out heartily – against [ISIS],” Allen said. “That’s what I want to see from every religion. We must stop this radicalism.”