Wednesday, members of religious and diversity groups lined up on the grass in the center median of N Lincoln Boulevard across from Oklahoma Republican Party headquarters to say state Rep. John Bennett’s remarks amount to an incitement of violence against Oklahoma Muslims.
Speakers from a diverse set of groups on Wednesday said they feared violence against Muslim Oklahomans unless people speak out against remarks made by state Rep. John Bennett comparing the religion to a cancer.
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations began criticizing Bennett on Sept. 3 after he wrote a Facebook post saying people should be wary of those who say they are Muslim American. Bennett, R-Sallisaw, stood by his remarks and Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston defended him.
At a town meeting Monday night in Sallisaw, Bennett said the Islamic faith “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” He said Islam is a sociopolitical movement intent on world domination and destruction of Western civilization.
On Wednesday, members of religious and diversity groups lined up on the grass in the center median of N Lincoln Boulevard across from Oklahoma Republican Party headquarters to say Bennett’s remarks amount to an incitement of violence against Oklahoma Muslims.
“This is the type of hate rhetoric we’ve heard before in many eras and in many parts of the world where minorities have been targeted for violence,” said Adam Soltani, the local CAIR chapter’s executive director.
He said Bennett has an obligation to represent all Oklahomans, no matter their religion.
Bennett did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Imad Enchassi, imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he has called the FBI to ask for security advice. He said students attending Muslim schools in Oklahoma were being kept inside Wednesday, and security has been increased at Oklahoma mosques.
“I’m warning publicly today in case of any hate crime perpetrated against any member of our community, or any Muslim business in our community or any Muslim institution in the state of Oklahoma that we will hold the Oklahoma Republican Party and Chairman Dave Weston and Rep. John Bennett responsible for such crimes,” Enchassi said.
The state Republican Party issued a statement saying Weston was working on previously scheduled activities and that the priority now is to work on issues important in the upcoming general election.
Gov. Mary Fallin said this country values freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“I expect Oklahomans to exercise those freedoms peacefully, as they have done in the past,” she said.
Oklahoma’s House Speaker Jeff Hickman said previously that Oklahomans welcome anyone “who respects our laws, and embraces our state, our culture and our people.”
A call to action
Michael Korenblit, of the Respect Diversity Foundation, said his parents survived the Holocaust with help from Germans and Christians, and that they believed there were good people and bad people in every race, religion and ethnicity. He said the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust were not murdered by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs or Baha’is.
“They were murdered by people who professed to believe in Jesus, who professed to be Christians and used the Bible to justify the killings,” he said. “I would remind Representative Bennett that people can cherry pick from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran to justify anything they say or do. That doesn’t make it right.”
He also noted that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II led to a kind of paranoia that prompted the confinement of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in California.
“And of course we know that thousands of Japanese Americans enlisted in the military and served with distinction in World War II just as there are many Muslims in the military today who are serving with distinction,” he said.
Korenblit said evil triumphs when good people say nothing, and called on Oklahomans of all political stripes to denounce hatred and bigotry.