State Rep. John Bennett’s recent comments about Muslims in Oklahoma are so outlandish, they hardly deserve a retort. Unfortunately, however, there are some who buy into his propaganda, which is unfair—not to mention dangerous—for many law-abiding citizens in Oklahoma.
Earlier this month, Bennett (R-Sallisaw) tied the ISIS brutality and beheadings in the Middle East to Muslims in Oklahoma. He posted on Facebook that “the Quran clearly states that non-Muslims should be killed,” and to “be wary if you’re a Christian.” His post said that terrorist groups’ “tentacles include un-indicted co-conspirators … like the Council on American-Islamic Relations here in Oklahoma.”
State GOP chairman Dave Weston only fueled the fire, saying that “If you’re Christian or Jewish and don’t immediately convert to Islam, they imminently decapitate you. This is proven by ongoing observations around the world today.”
Bennett and Weston did more than take the Quran out of context. They completely twisted a passage in order to support their own sick narrative of fear, hatred and paranoia with the hope of gaining political points.
Mainstream Islam is no more connected to ISIS than Christianity is connected to Westboro Baptist Church. As one of my Jewish friends reminds me, we must remember that the Holocaust was carried out not by Muslims, or Buddhists, or another faith group. The murders were executed by people professing to be Christians. Yet, we all know that these horrific acts have nothing to do with Christianity.
Like other fringe extremists, ISIS has hijacked the name of a religion and tried to convince the rest of the world that they represent its values.
It’s sad that Bennett and Weston have fallen for it. More than that, it’s dangerous. Dr. Imad Enchassi, senior Imam for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, told me that whenever a public official makes such a statement, the number of threats to mosques and Muslim people in Oklahoma rises exponentially.
I count many Muslims as dear friends and have traveled in countries where Islam is the primary religion. My life is better for it. Without a doubt, they are some of the most peaceful, grounded, loving people I know.
It’s heartbreaking to hear such hateful remarks—remarks that serve no purpose other than to ignite fear, divide people and incite hatred.
As Oklahomans, we’re better than that. And from our elected officials, we expect better. We expect statesmanship. We expect leadership. Above all, we expect honor.
The comments from Bennett and Weston show us once again that bullying doesn’t just happen on the playground. And it doesn’t just happen among children. It happens among adults—even among people with power, in our halls of government.
As long as bigotry and hate exist, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice will be there to stand up for those who are discriminated against. We invite people of all faiths, nationalities, backgrounds—and yes, all political parties—to join us.
Russ Florence is board chairman of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice. He is a partner and president with Schnake Turnbo Frank. Formerly a Tulsan, he now lives in Oklahoma City.