Desperate to turn the political discussion away from economic issues they cannot win on, Republican Presidential candidates have latched onto the claim that Islamic Shariah law is somehow overtaking the US. For example, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich has been quoted as saying that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States,” and that “the left’s refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union.” Similar statements have been made by other GOP candidates, such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain, and much of the right-wing blogosphere is obsessed with the purported “threat” of shariah law coming to the US. Thirteen states have seen legislation introduced to ban Shariah law, and Gingrich has gone so far as to propose a federal law banning Shariah law here in the US.
Conservative fear-mongering about Shariah law is absolutely ridiculous claptrap. For one thing, there are numerous variants of Shariah law, from the most brutal and orthodox versions practices in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban, to far more liberal and modern versions practiced in other Muslim countries. Regardless, the only purported examples of Shariah law in the US that conservatives can point to is a single wrongly-decided trial court decision in a domestic violence dispute in New Jersey that was quickly overturned on appeal, and the City of Dearborn, Michigan, which is approximately 32% Arab American (most of whom are actually Lebanese Christians). As Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly likes to point out, Dearborn is not run by Shariah law, a fact that is demonstrated by the presence of three strip clubs and a pork sausage factory within its borders. No major organizations in the US are pushing for the establishment of Shariah, and even if such effort existed, it would have to run through the impossibly difficult gauntlet of religious liberty protected by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution and a Congress that has only a single Muslim member. In short, Shariah law is not coming to America.
Normally, Winning Progressive would ignore such conservative distractions, as discussing them plays into the conservative attempt to divert our politics away from the serious issues facing our nation. But in this case there are at least two reasons to address the GOP’s fear mongering. First, you can draw a direct line from this fear mongering to a disturbing anti-Muslim bias in our society. Incidents such as Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and other companies refusing to advertise on the television show All-American Muslim and the protests that erupt against proposals to build mosques suggest a growing, un-American objection to Muslim Americans being viewed as equal members of society here in the US. And the flames of such exclusion are being irresponsibly fanned by GOP Presidential candidates making false claims about Shariah law.
Second, this issue presents yet another example of our media’s failure to play its role in providing the information that people need to be well-informed. A good journalist would either dismiss the GOP’s claims about Shariah law out of hand or would provide the information the readers need to realize that the GOP’s claims are baseless claptrap. Instead, we get he-said, she-said stenography in articles such as the New York Times’ one titled In Shariah, Gingrich Seems Mortal Threat to U.S. in which the reporter dutifully quotes the right-wing’s Shariah claims interspersed with references to various scholars and officials rejecting those claims:
Mr. Gingrich was articulating a much-disputed thesis in vogue with some conservative thinkers but roundly rejected by many American Muslims, scholars of Islam and counterterrorism officials.
. . . .
The idea that Shariah poses a danger in the United States, where the census pegs Muslims as less than 1 percent of the population, strikes many scholars as quixotic.
Even within that 1 percent, most American Muslims have no enthusiasm for replacing federal and state law with Shariah, as some conservatives fear, let alone adopting such ancient prescriptions as stoning for adulterers, said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, who spent a year traveling the United States and interviewing Muslims for his 2010 book “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.”
The notion of a threat from Shariah to the United States “takes your breath away, it’s so absurd,” Dr. Ahmed said. He sees political demagoguery in the anti-Shariah campaign, which fueled rallies against mosques in the last two years from Manhattan to Tennessee.
Who is right about this? Unfortunately, the article provides no basis for the reader to know. Instead, after dutifully explaining that conservatives see Shariah as a major threat, while other people think it is not, the reporter then turns to a Muslim-American who was included in an anti-Islam film made by Gingrich:
One Muslim activist who is shown in the film calling for “separation of mosque and state,” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, said he appreciated Mr. Gingrich’s support in an ideological contest with large Muslim advocacy groups in the United States that he believes have an Islamist slant.
The article then closes with a quote from Mohamed Elibiary, a former Newt Gingrich supporter, noting that the anti-Shariah campaign is “propaganda for jihadists” because it serves to demonize Muslim Americans rather than recognize them as fellow Americans. What the article does not contain is any of the readily available facts that demonstrate that the GOP’s claims about Shariah are baseless fear mongering. Instead, the reader is left having to decide for themselves whether they agree with the GOP candidates and Mr. Jasser, or whether they think that the handful of voices on the other side of the issue are correct.
The problem with this kind of reporting is that it enables the GOP to create these sorts of fake controversies with impunity. And, unfortunately, in this situation, such reporting allows the GOP to fan the flames of anti-Muslim bias and create exactly the kind of “propaganda for jihadists” that Mr. Elibiary described. Journalists should do better than that, and if we want a well-functioning democracy moving forward, we must demand that they do.
If you would like to respectfully let the reporter know your concerns about this type of he-said, she-said stenography, you can e-mail them here.