At a time of rallies where some “act” out their baseless fears, Oklahomans can always embrace our fundamental values by attending an event sponsored by the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR/OK). This year’s Ramadan Iftar with Our Elected Officials was a wonderful antidote to the worries that go along with life in our Red state. As usual, the diverse audience shared laughter and an opportunity to discuss where we go from here.
In attendance were a dozen current or former state legislators, two school board members, a city councilman, and two candidates for governor. One state representative, Rev. George Young, help set the tone by riffing off a classic CAIR/OK punch line. When Executive Director Adam Soltani is told to “go back to where you come from,” he responds No!, he is not going back to Kansas.
Humor is ubiquitous in these interfaith gatherings, especially when Iman Imad S. Enchassi and Reform or Conservative rabbis share the stage and engage in delightful banter. After all, the surrealistic behavior of so many members of the party that controls two branches of the Oklahoma government would be a terrible thing to waste. We have to laugh together to protect our sanity – as we work together to save our public institutions.
On the tables where fasts would be broken was the CAIR/OK’s “2017 Legislative Wrap-Up,” which concluded, “As Muslims we won but as Oklahomans we lost.” During this session, “There were only two occasions of blatant Islamophobia from two legislators – one apologized and the other has a long history of this type of behavior.” The worst xenophobia was unleashed by Rep. John Bennett, when “Muslim students visiting an Oklahoma lawmaker’s office in the state capitol were required to fill out a form that asked if they beat their wives.”
CAIR noted, however, “More than one legislator made comments targeting marginalized communities – particularly women and non-English speaking children. The first disgrace was a bill which passed out of a House committee which would “require a woman to get the written consent of the fetus’s father before obtaining an abortion.” The second was the effort to shrink the budget deficit by turning students who are identified as English Language Learners over to ICE for possible deportation.
Believe it or not, this year’s record of shame was an improvement over previous years. Rep. Bennett had previously “helped create a ‘counter-terrorism’ legislative caucus whose members have focused on the activities of CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group.” The caucus “hosted a law enforcement seminar at the state Capitol last year, and organizers tried to ban [Adam] Soltani from attending.”
This year, former Rep. Mike Shelton was honored by CAIR/OK for ensuring that Soltani gained access to the public seating area of the House chamber despite numerous calls to law enforcement officers in an effort to have him removed.
CAIR/OK then set an example for Oklahomans, who are paying the price for the extreme budgetary cuts enacted by the legislature over the last few years, by embracing teamwork. It condemned the way that Oklahoma has cut education spending more than any other state. As is true of the majority of Oklahomans who voted for constitutional amendments (that still were opposed by an influential minority of legislators), CAIR/OK is disappointed in our inability to reduce the state’s incarceration rate, especially its unconscionable incarceration rate for women.
Neither did CAIR and its interfaith allies succeed in advancing the religious liberties that have been under attack for so long. They sought unsuccessfully to protect “important services, such as affordable healthcare, mental health counseling and treatment, and food assistance for needy families.” But, it has joined “the Save Our State coalition campaigning to our legislators asking them to make responsible budget choices.”
Despite these setbacks, CAIR notes, “We saw a larger more consistent turnout at our events encouraging engagement. People are seeking out information and taking action.” As its public affairs coordinator says:
As CAIR-OK’s Government Affairs department looks to the future, I see the Oklahoma Muslim at the forefront of this movement. During the interim session, we will be planning community meetings on issue areas and helping you stay connected with your elected officials, even when they are not at the Capitol. We will continue to support and promote policies that maximize religious freedoms, Constitutional protections, and work towards eliminating inequality in Oklahoma. We look forward to your help making a more equal Oklahoma for all.