When bad times call for cooler heads and responsible discussion, we can always count on someone, usually a politician, to fan the flames for political gain.
Such is the case of Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw.
Bennett made embarrassing national headlines in October when he said that Islam is a cancer that needs to be cut out of America. He said that there is “no difference between moderate Islam and extreme Islam.”
Well, to make sure we haven’t forgotten him, he has now taken up his standard to further vilify Muslims following the deadly attack in Paris last week.
After the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead and many others seriously wounded, the Oklahoma Council of American-Islamic Relations, as well as other Muslims across the country and world, condemned the attacks.
Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK executive director, released a statement saying, “I’m sickened and saddened by the news from Paris. These barbaric and inhumane criminals are not Muslim. They are the antithesis of everything that Islam teaches and represents.”
It didn’t take Bennett long to respond. “The Quran, Islam and Muhammad’s hadiths justifies (sic), teaches and makes it obligatory to commit violence against non-Muslims.”
He also cited several passages from the Quran that he said backed up his claim that Islam is a violent religion, although I’m not sure that Bennett believes that Islam is an actual religion, despite its 1.6 billion followers worldwide.
Without going into too much detail here, let’s just say that Bennett really doesn’t want to get into a comparison match between the Quran and the Bible over which is the most violent.
It is fair to say that most Christians and Jews don’t endorse a lot of the Old Testament commands (executions of adulterers, for instance) and most Muslims don’t see the Quran as telling them to behave violently.
And, it’s safe to say that both religions have followers who interpret both texts literally, leading to problems.
Bennett and his ilk are quick to blame Islam for the Paris murders and for any other killing linked to terrorists who claim to be Muslims. They always point out that Muslims do not condemn such acts of violence, and when they do, Bennett thinks they are being disingenuous. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Responding to such a complicated issue with overly simple explanations is dangerous and too common. Believing or pretending to believe that because some terrorists claim to be Muslims means that the entire religion of Islam calls for killing non-believers and all Muslims are terrorists is easy, and wrong.
Believing that Muslims do not condemn terrorists is one of those simple “truths.” Therefore, where is the criticism for Christians in the United States who are aren’t standing up to condemn the wholesale slaughter of Muslims by Christians in the Central African Republic? What about when Christian zealots in Yugoslavia committed genocide against Muslims?
Why do Bennett and others like him not see the side of Islam that produces Malala Yousafzai, who Muslim extremists in Pakistan tried to assassinate because she dared to go to school? She survived and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Islam, like all religions, has problems caused by a few extremists who tend to seek out parts of the sacred texts to justify their murderous actions. That, however, doesn’t make all Muslims or Christians or Jews terrorists.
Islamic leaders and leaders of countries where Islam is dominant, need to see finally the folly of their laws against blasphemy. When people are condemned to death because they utter the most innocuous things about Islam or Muhammad, it only gives those who look for strict interpretation an excuse to carry out murders in the name of Islam.
Bennett needs to understand that the vast majority of Muslims in this country and worldwide are peaceful. They want what he wants: For their kids to get an education, have a better life than their parents and live in peace.
The tragedy in Paris reminds all of us of just how precious our freedoms are. We have the right to criticize our politicians and religions with no fear of persecution. It also ought to make us realize that there are bad people in the world who would like to take those freedoms away.
Rep. Bennett has as much right to criticize Islam as I do to criticize him. I will defend him for that. Our peaceful Muslim neighbors deserve the same right. And they deserve to follow their religion and Bennett needs to understand that Islam has a constitutional right to exist in this country.
I choose the tolerance of Jesus over the violence of the book of Joshua.
Fanning the flames of bigotry, distrust and hate also is protected by that same First Amendment. But it certainly isn’t very Christian.