Rep. John Bennett got the stage and the starring role he sought.
In August, the Sallisaw Republican who is seeking re-election, asked House Speaker Jeff Hickman to grant him an interim study with the ominous title of, “Radical Islam, Sharia Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Radicalization Process.” Given Bennett’s history of histrionics and penchant to demonize all things Islamic, it would have been rational for Hickman to pass on the study. He could have pointed out that with all the other problems facing the state, spending money on such a foolish study would be, well, foolish. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
So, last Wednesday, a date that will live in ignominy, Bennett convened his study at the Capitol with his “experts” lined up to testify. Being true to his histrionics, he and his experts were escorted into the chamber by Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers.
His expert testimony included two men from Understandingthethreat.com, an anti-Islamic web site, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, a “confidential informant” who spoke over speaker-phone and a man who claimed to be a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It was the equivalent of a right-wing radio talk show.
Bennett didn’t waste any time in trying to scare the bejeezus out of everyone.
“If you love America and love freedom and our way of life, you have an obligation to stand and fight against Hamas, CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations), NAIT (the North Atlantic Islamic Trust) and ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America) and all these other groups that are here to destroy us.
“The enemy is in the wire and some of them are in this room today.“The enemy must be stopped. We’re going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes, and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We’re going to be called that by terrorists organizations like CAIR that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom.”
CAIR happens to be a Muslim civil liberties advocacy group, much like the American Civil Liberties Union, which I can guess that Bennett is no fan of either. Critics have tried to link CAIR to terrorist groups, with no substantial evidence.
Bennett once said that Islam is “a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” He once declared that there is no difference between Islam and extreme Islam. He warned to be wary of those who call themselves Muslim-Americans. Obviously, he considers all Muslims to the the enemy.
Bennett has made a career out of playing on the unfounded fears of his constituents. He is a model for the American that real terrorists use to recruit more terrorists. He seems to believe that there is a crazed Muslim under every rock just waiting to ambush innocent Americans.
There are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world. That makes it the second largest religion in the world, behind Christianity. If, indeed, every Muslim were a terrorist, I think both Bennett and I would know it by now.
The fact is, which Bennett and his followers refuse to believe, is that the great majority of Muslims are peace-loving and reject the terrorist thugs that damage the religion of Islam. In fact, and he won’t believe this either, the American-Muslim community and Muslims worldwide have worked with U.S. authorities to track down terrorists and prevent attacks here and abroad. They also have consistently and publicly condemned terrorist attacks.
American-Muslims do not want to replace the U.S. Constitution with Shariah Law. The majority wants to work, raise their kids, chase the American dream and honor their religion.
Bennett and like thinkers — and I use the word “thinkers” very loosely — promote banning Islam from being practiced in the U.S. Many, I believe, would prefer if we simply deported all Muslims.
They need to take another look at that Constitution that they love so much and read something besides the Second Amendment. There are nine others in the Bill of Rights. I recommend that they start with the First Amendment and work their way down.
Bennett has a challenger — Democrat Tom Stites — in his bid for re-election. A Sallisaw businessman, Stites is an Air Force veteran with an engineering degree from Oklahoma State University. He is a proponent of public education and small businesses. His father, J.T. Stites, once held the same District 2 seat, which covers Sequoyah County.
Bennett, like too many other legislators, has ignored the important issues facing this state and concentrated on the trivial or, in this case, the fabricated.
There is an old vaudeville story that when a performer was tanking, someone would get a long cane with a hook on the end and physically yank the performer from the stage by the neck.
So, for many of us, let me say: “Get the hook.”