HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawaii is publicly criticizing U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for meeting twice last month with President Bashar al-Assad during a trip to Syria.
"It is absolutely no different than saying we want to help the victims of the Holocaust, and then you go and meet with Hitler twice," Hakim Ouansafi said.
He said many Hawaii Muslims feel insulted. That's what compelled him to voice his concern.
"International groups, Amnesty International, the UN have all conducted their investigation and said Assad is a war criminal, is a person who has been deliberately targeting civilians," Ouansafi said.
Gabbard, D-Hawaii, has defended the Assad encounters as opportunities to help bring an end to Syria's war and peace to the Middle East.
Her office has said that Gabbard "agreed to meet (with Assad) because she believes we need to be ready to meet with anyone and everyone if there's a possibility it could help bring peace to Syria and the Middle East."
Some Hawaii Muslims call her actions independent and brave.
Late last month, University of Hawaii professor Ibrahim Aoude told Hawaii News Now he admired Gabbard's courage.
"I have a lot of respect for Tulsi Gabbard even before that. She's a major in the reserves. That is an important thing. That is a real American hero for me," Aoude said.
But Ouansafi wishes Gabbard talked to Syrians living in Hawaii who attend the Manoa mosque and have relatives and friends suffering under Assad's regime.
"The people that are suffering, burying their dead, eating their cats because they have no food, those are the folks that are affected by this," he said.
Gabbard authored a bill to stop arming terrorists. She has said repeatedly she's against regime change wars like the one in Syria.
Her staff did not provide a response from Gabbard to Ouansafi's criticism, but pointed to a quote from Tima Kurdi, the aunt of the 2-year-old Syrian boy who was found washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015.
"I feel very strongly that Tulsi did a brave thing by visiting Syria. She truly cares about bringing peace to my people," Kurdi said.
Gabbard's office said there's been an outpouring of support from Hawaii for her meeting Syria's leader.
Ouansafi believes many of Hawaii's Muslims feel that decision will come back to haunt her.
"Truly, this will go in history as a black mark in her record," he said.