In a press release on Thursday, January 8, Oklahoma State Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, spoke out against the Oklahoma chapter of a national Islamic organization and called on its leaders to condemn verses of the Quran.
Bennett made his statement in response to remarks made by the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) regarding the recent terrorist attack in Paris. In his news release, Rep. Bennett said, “If CAIR Oklahoma really condemns terrorism and believes in First Amendment protections for everyone, they need to prove it by condemning the verses in the Quran that call for these violent acts.”
In response, CAIR-OK sent out a press release with replies to Bennett’s remarks from director Adam Soltani.
“Representative Bennett has already made it clear that he hates Muslims and Islam,” said CAIR-OK Director Adam Soltani in the release. “Given this bias, it should not surprise anyone that he would target the foundation holy text of Islam that is regarded by Muslims as the word of God.”
Soltani added, “Bennett’s misinterpretation of Islam is the same as the violent extremists and are not shared by the vast majority of Muslims. This erroneous understanding is similar to when slaver owners used Bible verses to justify the human trafficking of Africans. We condemn the distortions of Islamic principles promoted by both Representative Bennett and violent extremists.”
Veronica Laizure, Staff Attorney for CAIR-OK, added to Soltani’s remarks in a phone conversation on Thursday.
“It’s absurd to blame an entire faith for the actions of a violent splinter group,” Laizure said. “Bennett’s remarks are an extreme mischaracterization – most Muslims live lives of peace and productivity, and they don’t sympathize with the actions taken in Paris.”
According to Laizure, these remarks are not the first troubling statements from Oklahoma leaders regarding Islam and the Oklahoma Muslim community, but they also aren’t representative of the state’s attitude toward Islam as a whole.
“Our interactions with others in Oklahoma are very positive, especially in the interfaith community,” Laizure explained. “These remarks don’t reflect on Oklahoma as a whole.”
Bennett’s news release was only the latest in a string of criticisms directed toward the Oklahoma Muslim community. In September and October of last year Bennett spoke out against CAIR and the Islamic faith, saying Islam was a cancer that needed to be “cut out” of America.
Red Dirt Report reached out to Bennett’s office on Thursday for comment regarding his remarks, but he could not be contacted.
Bennett’s most recent news release was sent out on Thursday through the Oklahoma House of Representatives Media site, an act that some other state lawmakers took badly.
“I urge Speaker [Jeff] Hickman (R-Dacoma) to ban Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) from using the state House media staff to write and distribute his hateful rants’ about Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations,” wrote State Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, in response to Bennett’s remarks.
“I’m a fervent believer in free speech,” said Shelton. “But Representative Bennett’s speech isn’t free, because he’s using taxpayer-provided resources to conduct personal rants against a religious organization and its activities that have absolutely nothing to do with state government. He should be conducting his personal attacks on his own time, using his personal resources, not House staff and House computers.”