Representatives from 11 civil liberties and interfaith groups demanded apologies Wednesday for bigoted anti-Muslim comments made by state Rep. John Bennett and later endorsed by the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman.
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, made a public plea for the Republican National Committee to repudiate the remarks made by the lawmaker and GOP chair Dave Weston. Soltani said some Republicans for the past four years have tried to demonize the Islamic faith.
“These attacks have done little more than create fear and fuel flames of anti-Muslim sentiment,” he said.
In a Facebook post last week, Bennett called on Oklahomans to be “wary” of Muslim Americans and falsely claimed that the Quran urges people of other faiths “should be killed.”
The complete post reads, “Islam and Muslim are one in the same. They are adjectives describing their religion. Islam is the religion; Muslim is the person that follows Islam. If someone claims to be Muslim they subscribe to Islam (Quran). The Quran clearly states that non-Muslims should be killed. Arab is the ethnicity, not Muslim or Islam. Be wary of the individuals who claim to be Muslim American. Be especially wary if you’re a Christian.”
Weston later supported Bennett’s comments while adding his own anti-Muslim remarks.
“There is so much overwhelming evidence around the world that the fundamental beliefs of Islam authorize anything but peace until they become dominant,” the state GOP chairman said.
The Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, denounced the comments from Weston and Bennett while standing “in solidarity” with members of the American Islamic community.
“I call upon Rep. Bennett to apologize because what they are doing is bigotry,” he said.
Imad Enchassi, senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City and chairman of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University, said the fears of shared by the Republican politicos are unwarranted and misguided.
“These statements trouble me. It troubles me that people make bigoted comments and that it’s accepted,” he said, prior to quoting Scriptures from the Quran. “Muslims believe in God. Muslims believe in all the prophets. For a Muslim to kill someone would be like killing mankind.”
Later in the press conference, Sheryl Siddiqui, spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said Muslims have condemned violence of any kind, including the recent beheadings of two American journalists.
“Never do we hear in our mosques the kind of talk that comes from ISIS,” she said.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the 11 civil liberties and interfaith groups would not have held the press conference if they were dealing only with a “marginalized legislator and his Facebook ramblings.”
“But we are here because it was endorsed by the Republican executive director,” he said. “Their comments fail to recognize the truth about Muslims. They are ignoring the social and economic contributions from Muslims.”
ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson acknowledged that he is Christian and a Republican, saying “and today, I’m ashamed to be a Republican. Those types of comments are making us less secure and violating what it means to be a Christian and a Republican.”
Quoting the Biblical commandment to love thy neighbor, Henderson said, “that commandment applies to Bennett and Weston but they are not following it. Their comments are stupid, silly, hateful and downright scapegoating.”
Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma NAACP, demanded Bennett resign.
“He is no longer effectively representing the people in his district. No representative in this state should promote hate. I’m calling for the governor to assist in removing him,” Douglas said. “We will find a legal way to get him out of office. He’s got to go.”
Sarah Bana, advocacy director for the EVE Coalition, said all Oklahomans should rally behind the Muslim community, which she described as peaceful.
“We all need to abide by the laws, love each other and be compassionate with others,” she said.
Other speakers were Arif Abdullah of Masjid Mum’in, Russ Florence, executive committee chairman of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Michael Korenblat of the Respect Diversity Foundation and Ersin Demirci, executive director of the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City.