Stoking the fires of prejudice and fear certainly is not new in the political arena. But that doesn’t mean making such comments gets a free pass.
Recently, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, said: “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 are Christian.”
He said he has no intention of apologizing, and that is evident.
Picking and choosing and taking verses of the Quran out of context is a frequent, but no less repulsive, trick for those out to curry favor from certain blocks of voters.
Such cherry-picking, along with charges, among others, that the Council on American-Islamic Relations has ties to terrorist organizations, is unfair.
CAIR and other Islamic organizations, as well as Muslim individuals, have denounced the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including the beheading of two Americans.
But it’s very easy to make charges and often much more difficult to prove them false. It’s a familiar, although questionable, political ploy. Politician “A” tells people that someone is a terrorist. The accused, person “B,” then has to come along and explain why he or she isn’t a terrorist, which can require several words and even several sentences, at which point the eyes of those listening begin to glaze over.
Then, politician “A” again calls “B” a terrorist. Guess which most will remember.
This also works with the words “traitor,” “liberal” and “tax hike.”
A good example comes from the 1950 Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Florida. It’s accuracy often is questioned, but it, nevertheless, is a good story.
Sen. Claude Pepper was a three-time incumbent and was being challenged by U.S. Rep. George Smathers.
At a speech in rural Florida, Smathers supposedly claimed that Pepper was a “known extrovert,” his sister a “thespian” and his brother a practicing “homo sapien.” He also accused Pepper of practicing “nepotism” with his sister-in-law and of “matriculating” with young women in college. Smathers also said Pepper “practiced celibacy” before marriage.
Imagine having to explain your way out of those charges. Smathers won the election by 67,000 votes.
Sadly, the attack on Muslims is not funny. It is cruel, dangerous and plainly unAmerican and unChristian.
Critics of CAIR will accuse the organization of simply covering up its ties to radical Muslim groups.
And, in fairness, it is easy for groups to hide their moral and economic ties.
In the case of CAIR, however, most of the rumors appear to be just that, rumors.
Bennett served in the Marine Corps for 21 years and for that he deserves our thanks. That, however, does not make him an expert on Islam or the Quran. And it does not make him immune from criticism when he deserves it.
“I am not against all Arabs or people who follow the religion of Islam,” he said. “The religion has been changed. It used to be peaceful.”
The fact is, Muslims and their organizations worldwide, including CAIR, have condemned the actions of ISIS, and especially the murders of two American journalists.
And, despite what Bennett believes, the great majority of Muslims are not intent on killing Christians. They want to live in peace, just like most of us.
Bennett can criticize President Obama for his handling of Mideast events, there is plenty of room for that. But condemning Muslims and Islam for the actions of murderous zealots is unfair and dangerous.
If Bennett wants to take the words of ancient texts at face value, he needs to re-read the Old Testament. Just because it calls for stoning for certain infractions, doesn’t mean every Christian or Jew believes that is still necessary.
Yes, there are passages in the Quran that can be violent toward nonbelievers or enemies. But, before casting that stone, take time to read the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, or the third, Leviticus.
Take some of the chapters literally, ignoring the history or the metaphorical value, and the Old Testament can be pretty violent and intolerant.
There are chapters and chapters of God ordering Moses and Joshua to kill everyone they encounter, enemies and non-believers, men, women and children.
Leviticus lays down laws, many of which are punishable by death. Stoning is a popular form of execution.
Israelites could be stoned to death for anything from blasphemy to homosexuality to being “familiar” with witches. God also told the Israelites to make slaves of their enemies.
Most right-thinking Christians don’t follow such ideas today. Yes, there are some radical Muslim sects that still stone and mistreat women.
ISIS is of that mindset. But ISIS is the group that is being condemned by moderate Muslims, the majority.
Why must Americans fear people who are different? Every minority that has helped build this country was at first mistrusted and often mistreated. From the Native Americans, to the Germans, who Benjamin Franklin feared would ruin Pennsylvania, to Irish and Hispanics.
Oklahomans, of all people, who are descended from a variety of ethnicities — most of whom were mistreated — ought to be the most tolerant of people.
Fear, however, combined with political ambition too often overrides what is right.
Rep. Bennett is only the latest in a long line of politicians who play on fear and distrust to further their careers.
He and others ought to be ashamed, but I doubt they will be.