Muslim group draws attention to county official's anti-Islamic comments
An Oklahoma County official accepted a lunch invitation with a local Muslim leader this week after drawing continued criticism for making anti-Muslim comments.
Oklahoma County Assessor Larry Stein and Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, had lunch on Wednesday, a day after a Muslim advocacy group demanded a meeting with Stein to discuss his anti-Muslim rhetoric on Facebook.
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter, said non-Muslims and Muslims from the community brought a 2014 Facebook post made by Stein to his organization's attention right before Stein was elected county assessor in 2018. Soltani said once Stein took office, CAIR-OK reached out at the end of January to request a meeting to discuss the post and several others. They hoped to discuss his comments and talk with him about representing all of his constituents, including Muslims.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Stein said he was surprised that his posts from several years ago have generated attention.
He said the essence of his 2014 post was his opposition to terrorism.
"I'm opposed to international terrorists and I think we can all agree that terrorism is bad. I only talked about Islamic terrorists — not all Muslims," Stein said.
In the 2014 Facebook post, Stein criticized Islam after a fired employee, who identified himself as Muslim, beheaded a woman at a Moore plant.
"There have been many Oklahoma soldiers who have lost their lives fighting Islamic extremists in far away lands. On Thursday, a citizen lost their life to an Islamic extremist in Moore. 'This is a religion of peace' is the biggest lie since 'The check is in the mail!' Stein wrote.
A 2015 post said "No shirt, no shoes, no service. Which Islamic halal restaurant can I go to and demand they cook pig for me?" apparently making reference to the Islamic prohibition against pork.
Soltani said Stein ignored repeated emails from CAIR-OK before responding in March to say he was too busy fulfilling other commitments to meet with them.
On Tuesday, CAIR-OK sent out a news release drawing attention to Stein's posts on social media.
On Wednesday, Stein accepted an invitation to lunch from Enchassi.
Soltani said he was pleased that Stein met with Enchassi. However, CAIR-OK leaders still want to meet with the county official, he said.
"I'm happy that he did that but our stance is still the same. CAIR is about building relationships with elected officials and building bridges. We won't be compartmentalized. The initial ask was for him to meet with us and his Muslim constituents," Soltani said.
Soltani said CAIR-OK takes specific issue with Stein referring to terrorists as Islamists because "terrorists come in all shapes and backgrounds."
"We know that terrorism is not a problem rooted in religion. Terrorism is a human problem," he said.
Meanwhile, Stein issued a statement on the issue.
"I have been and always will be opposed to anyone who enacts violence on others, no matter what race or religion. I feel our friends at CAIR-OK have misled the media about demanding to meet with me within a certain time frame and also have misled the media and others about my social media posts of several years ago that decried the act of murder by extremists and violent destructive mobs. As a Christian, I pray for peace each day. I hope people in all faith communities will join me in doing the same," he said.
Stein said Enchassi was kind to ask him to lunch and he was glad he went.
Enchassi described Stein as "very open" and "cordial."
Enchassi said he and the county assessor have many common friends on social media so he felt compelled to reach out to the official.
The imam said the meal helped "break the ice" and was hopefully a first step toward what will be more dialogue between Stein and the Muslim community.
"We had a very constructive conversation. He's against radicals and we're against radicals, so we have common ground on that," Enchassi said.
"We agreed that we have some political differences and some theological differences but we both want to work for the betterment of our city. We both want to put our state before politics."