Oklahoma's Muslim Constituents Deserve Better

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Republican state Rep. John Bennett from Oklahoma is no stranger when it comes to issuing controversial comments about Muslims and Islam. In his most recent episode concerning Muslims, Bennett handed out a questionnaire to his Muslim constituents on Thursday. One of the questions included, "Do you beat your wife?" Another question asked whether or not the constituents agreed with "ruling over" non-Muslims. Some of the constituents who received the questionnaire were students in the state capitol with the goal of meeting their representatives, an initiative organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. But clearly that's not how Bennett saw it.

Bennett isn't new to the game of Islamophobia: In September 2014, Bennett called Islam a "cancer" that needs to be "cut out" of the United States, and further stated that there is "[no] difference between moderate and radical Islam." For someone who claims to have read the entire Quran, Bennett's knowledge about Islam reads more like a hasty headline than a scholarly inquiry into a 1,400-year-old Abrahamic religion spanning over dozens of countries and millions of believers from a myriad of cultures, languages, and histories. CAIR Oklahoma executive director Adam Soltani shared a video of himself showing the questionnaire on his Facebook page on Thursday. The form was created by ACT for America, a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as "the largest grass-roots anti-Muslim group in America."

In his Facebook video posted on Thursday, Soltani said if someone does not represent all citizens of Oklahoma, they should not be working for the state.

Nobody should be vetted with stupid, Islamophobic, hateful, bigoted questions before they can meet with their representative. John Bennett has no right to do this to Muslims or any group of people.

Unfortunately, Bennett is not alone in issuing such a disturbing questionnaire. To understand how insidious this attitude has become and how the concept of a religious test is being mainstreamed, you should consider Donald Trump's words from August 2016. It was Trump who called for the "extreme" ideological vetting of immigrants seeking entry in the United States. According to Trump aides, the screening process would involve questionnaires that targeted applicants' positions on gender, sexuality, and religious freedom, AP reported.

Trump did not clarify how the questionnaires would demonstrate the presence or absence of veracity from the respondents. However, he did say that the policy would put a temporary pause to immigration from "the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism."

The question Bennett attempts to ask his Muslim constituents is merely an exercise in Islamophobia. And if Bennett is truly worried for the actual well-being of women, he would not target a specific faith with his question, considering the fact that, according to the Violence Policy Center's 2016 report, Oklahoma has the fourth-highest rate of women killed by men in the country. It is also worth noting the percentages of various religious demographics in Oklahoma: 47 percent of Oklahomans are Evangelical Protestant, 18 percent are Mainline Protestant, and 8 percent are Roman Catholic. The Muslim population, on the contrary, makes up barely 1 percent of the population in the state.

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It is unfortunate that we live in a political climate where the actual epidemic of domestic violence against women — and Islamophobic attitudes towards Muslims and other minorities, which can lead to hate crimes — does not garner the sincere attention of a lawmaker who is more interested in peddling contrived stereotypes about Muslims.