Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey jokingly asked a bearded man during a speech at Syracuse University whether he was a member of the Taliban, in an exchange first reported by Syracuse.com.
When a man stood up to ask Dempsey a question during a Q&A session, Dempsey asked him, “Are you Taliban?” before quickly adding that he was kidding.
Dempsey's office later said the chairman's joke didn't have to do with the Islamic faith and was instead a joke about the man's beard.
“I think this is yet another symptom of the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in our society,” Hooper said. “I would put this more in the category of casual Islamophobia. It’s joking and jovial, but it’s Islamophobia nonetheless.”
Hooper’s group is the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in America. He added that the joke coming from a top American military official makes it “all the more disturbing.”
Dempsey is the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and a top military adviser to President Obama. He’s held a slew of military posts including acting commander of U.S. Central Command, as well as head of the effort to train the Iraqi military after the overthrow of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"The Chairmen regrets that his use of humor was misunderstood," his spokesman, Col. Ed Thomas, told The Hill.
This story was updated at 5:52 p.m.