Hanging Tough in Oklahoma

Diana West

10/26/2007 12:01:00 AM - Diana West

I could start today's column this way:

Something downright incendiary is happening in Oklahoma. First one, then 17, and now 24 state lawmakers have declined a copy of the Koran offered to all 149 members of the legislature by an official Muslim advisory group to Oklahoma's governor. State Representative Rex Duncan, Republican, explained his rejection of the Koran this way: "Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology."

That's one way. Or I could start it this way:

Something downright incendiary is happening in Oklahoma. Gov. Brad Henry's Muslim advisory council is offering personalized Korans to lawmakers to mark the state's centennial, with each copy to be embossed with the Oklahoma state seal and the recipient lawmaker's name. The all-Muslim group -- plain-vanilla-named the American Ethnic Advisory Council -- asked lawmakers to notify it if they didn't want a Koran, which the group described as "the record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad." So far, 24 have declined.

Of course, it's the rejection of the Korans that's making headlines, not their state-sealed if privately funded distribution. No one asks what the Koran has to do with Oklahoma's centennial, for Pete's sake; or why a government organization is proselytizing about "the exact words" of Allah; or how those words in that book sound to non-Muslims leery of Islam's age-old message to convert, submit or die. In our weird world, it's not the Islamic message that's branded hateful or even insensitive; it's the person who rejects it. This is the technique that usually shuts people up.

Maybe not this time. The reaction in the local media to this perfect PC storm has, so far, been somewhat subdued. I haven't heard calls for anyone's head -- figuratively speaking, of course -- although there is a steady cluck-clucking over the legislators' unenlightened "bad manners" and statehouse talk of "finding homes" for the rejected Korans. (Oh, brother.) Meanwhile, local Muslim advocates display utter bewilderment that anyone could construe Islam as anything but "very peaceful, very inclusive."

To enlighten them, someone might bring up the key Koranic concept of jihad, or maybe ask a Muslim "apostate" in fear of his safety for leaving Islam, or a persecuted Christian or Jew in fear of his safety living under Islam, to explain.

Or, to keep things local, someone might ask Allison Moore, an Oklahoma Muslim quoted in recent stories, for elaboration. Why? Ms. Moore works on a newsletter published by the Tulsa Islamic Center. I downloaded the October issue and read an article that compares consorting with lax Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims -- "people of religious innovation and misguidance, those who abandon the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and advocate other beliefs" -- to nothing short of "doom itself" and "taking poison."

The article continues: "A man with any intellect should not sit in their assemblies nor mix with them. The result of doing so will either be the death of his heart, or, at the very best, its falling seriously ill."

This is -- how shall I put it? -- not very inclusive. Obviously, while the media remain stuck on spin - un-inclusive Christian yahoos reject kindly Muslim gift -- there's more to the story. For instance, what's up with the governor's council? According to the 2004 executive order creating it, the group is supposed to include "Ethnic Americans" from Oklahoma's "Middle East/Near East community." Besides Arab-American Muslims, this should include Israeli-American Jews or Lebanese-American Christians, no? No. Euphemistically "Ethnic," the group is solidly Muslim. Bumping around on the Internet, I found uncomfortably few degrees of separation between one of the council members, Malaka Elyazgi, and a Hamas kingpin. (Her husband, Mohamed Elyazgi, was a business partner of Mufid Abdulqader, a defendant in the Holy Land Foundation trial and half-brother to the political chief of Hamas.)

And what's the council all about? Judging by its push for, say, preliminary school recognition of Muslim holidays, or Muslim displays at the Oklahoma History Center, I'd say it's about advancing Islam in Oklahoma. Last I looked, this isn't the role of state organizations. (Imagine the furor over an all-Christian council promoting Christianity from a state office.) And particularly in a state that still counts as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which includes freedom of conscience -- forbidden under Islamic law.

Ultimately, such freedom of conscience is exactly what Mr. Duncan and colleagues are exercising in declining a Koran. And that's something worth hanging tough for.