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Oklahoma Muslim leaders concerned after lawmaker calls Islam 'a cancer in our nation'

Religious leaders in Oklahoma are speaking out against remarks made by state Rep. John Bennett (R), who told a town hall audience on Monday that the Islamic faith "is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out," and is a sociopolitical movement with the goal of taking over the world and destroying Western civilization.

His comments came less than two weeks after he wrote a Facebook post that advised people to be wary of someone who says they are Muslim American; he didn't back down from those remarks, and Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston defended him, The Oklahoman reports.

On Wednesday, members of various religious and diversity groups stood outside the Oklahoma GOP headquarters and denounced Bennett's latest comments. "This is the type of hate rhetoric we've heard before in many eras and in many parts of the world where minorities have been targeted for violence," said Adam Soltani, executive director of the local Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Michael Korenbilt of the Respect Diversity Foundation said he is the son of Holocaust survivors. Europe's Jews weren't killed by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, or Baha'is, he said, "they were murdered by people who professed to believe in Jesus, who professed to be Christians and used the Bible to justify the killings. I would remind Rep. Bennett that people can cherry-pick from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran to justify anything they say or do. That doesn't make it right."

Several Muslims said they feared that Bennett's remarks would fan the flames of bigotry and could lead to hate crimes. The imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, Imad Enchassi, said he has contacted the FBI for advice on staying safe. Students at Muslim schools in Oklahoma were kept inside on Wednesday, and security has been increased at Oklahoma mosques.

Bennett did not return phone calls from The Oklahoman for comment.