OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Some Oklahoma Muslims have expressed concern about anti-Islamic rhetoric mounting at the state Capitol after the creation of a counter-terrorism legislative caucus whose members have focused on the activities of a Muslim civil rights group.
Spearheaded by Rep. John Bennett, a Marine Corps veteran who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a fierce critic of Sharia Law, the caucus has fewer than a dozen "core" members. It meets informally mostly to educate other lawmakers, Bennett said.
"It's just to educate the legislators on the capabilities of terrorists and predominantly those ones who could have organizations here in our state that might have the opportunity to provide assets or resources for terrorist activities," said Bennett, R-Sallisaw. "We're not a law enforcement arm. We're not going to be out there kicking in doors, as much as I'd like to."
A handful of Republican legislators who participate in caucus meetings recently appeared at a press conference with Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy. He described Sharia Law as "our generation's most serious and, I believe, mortal peril." Gaffney also characterized the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, as "directly linked" to an attempt to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in the United States.
During his visit to Oklahoma, Gaffney met with Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and urged her to sign a bill that would prevent Oklahoma courts from considering any foreign law that may limit Oklahomans' constitutional rights. The bill was an attempt by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Bethany, to reinstate a ban on foreign law after a federal court rejected a constitutional amendment approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in 2010 that prohibited courts from considering Sharia Law.
Fallin signed the bill last week.
Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR, said the group is consulting with legal counsel to consider a challenge to the bill and said Muslims appear to be a politically expedient target of some Oklahoma legislators.
"We think it's just trying to gain political points somewhere," Soltani said. "What are they really achieving from doing this, other than scoring political points and creating an environment of fear?"
Soltani also disputed Gaffney's assertion that CAIR has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or an attempt to impose Sharia law.
Andrew Stodghill, a 22-year-old Muslim-American student at the University of Central Oklahoma, said he believes anti-Muslim attitudes are "very palpable" in Oklahoma and often are fueled by anti-Islamic rhetoric from politicians.
"Espcially in the state Legislature, you can really see it," Stodghill said. "I think part of it is just a lack of knowledge of the faith and the people, and an unwillingness of people to learn and to get outside of their information level or propaganda bubble."
Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, described the foreign law ban signed by Fallin as "nothing more than a baseless attack on political religious minorities."
"Whether it is the governor giving an audience to a zealot who has made a career out of demonizing Islam, or the Legislature establishing the do-nothing counter-terrorism caucus, there are far too many of Oklahoma's politicians who are racing to the wrong side of history," Kiesel said in a statement. "Bigotry and demagogues have been with us since the beginning of our republic, but it's our persistent move toward justice and equality that have and will ultimately define our nation and our state."
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy