Saturday, June 18, 2011

Shariah-phobia in America

Are Muslim Americans trying to impose a Taliban-style Shariah law in the USA? Seemingly, the answer is ‘yes’, if you are a Republican politician. The idea that America is this close to having her constitution replaced by the Muslim Scripture – the Qur’an - used to be a fringe notion in the post-9/11 era of Islamophobia that was packaged, promoted and propagated by malicious “Islamist watchdog” bloggers, neocon pundits with some think tanks and pen-pushing zealots. But nowadays that absurd idea has inched closer to the mainstream, thanks to our Republican politicians. Truly, outside Ron Paul of Texas, I don’t know of any serious Republican politician who has not tried to bank on this ‘menace.’

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, is the lead dog in this evil campaign. Last year, in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute (a neocon think tank) where he is a senior fellow, Gingrich said, “The fight against Shariah and the maddrassas and mosques which teach hatred and fanaticism is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth… One of the things I am going to suggest today is a federal law which says no court anywhere in the United States under any circumstance is allowed to consider Shariah as a replacement for American law.”

Gingrich is a morally decadent person with a history of corruption and adultery, and has obvious reasons for opposing the Shariah or God’s Law that could find him guilty for violating some of the Ten Commandments like ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’ and ‘thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife’ and, thus, punished in this world, let alone his wretched state in the afterworld.

But what about other Republican politicians? Are they, too, equally depraved, corrupt or morally bankrupt? Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum don’t agree on everything, but they all concur that we must stop Shariah law from being imposed upon America. Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, refers to Shariah as ‘an existential threat’ to the United States. During last year’s Senate race in Nevada, GOP candidate Sharon Angle blithely asserted that Dearborn, as well as a small town in Texas, currently operate under Shariah law. And Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann used the occasion of Osama bin Laden’s death to tie the terrorist mastermind to the word: ‘It is my hope that this is the beginning of the end of Shariah-compliant terrorism.’ The GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, declared in March that he would not appoint a Muslim to a Cabinet position or judgeship because ‘there is this attempt to gradually ease Shariah law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.’

Most of these bigots have no clue what Shariah is, why it is a problem and where in the Qur’an to find it. God’s Commandments in the Qur’an are not much different from those of the Torah (see below).

1. ‘So know that there is no god but Allah.’ (Qur’an 47:19) ‘Thou shalt have none other gods before me.’ (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7)
2. ‘O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security: and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.’ (Qur’an 14:35) ‘Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God...’ (Exodus 20:4-6, Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
3. ‘And make not Allah’s (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for Allah is One Who heareth and knoweth all things.’ (Qur’an 2:224) ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.’ (Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:11)
4. ‘O ye who believe! When the call is heard for the prayer of the day of congregation, haste unto remembrance of Allah and leave your trading. That is better for you if ye did but know.’ (Qur’an 62:9) ‘Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.’ (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12)
5. ‘Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.’ (Qur’an 17:23) ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.’ (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16)
6. ‘… whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.’ (Qur’an 5:32) ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17)
7. ‘Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty, We shall provide for them and for you. Lo! the slaying of them is great sin. Nor come nigh to adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way. ’ (Qur’an 17:31-32) ‘Neither shalt thou commit adultery.’ (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18)
8. ‘O Prophet! … they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey thee in any just matter…’ (Qur’an 60: 12) ‘Neither shalt thou steal.’ (Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:19)
9. ‘…Conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it his heart is tainted with sin. And Allah Knoweth all that ye do.’ (Qur’an 2:283) ‘Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20)
10. ‘And strain not thine eyes toward that which We cause some wedded pairs among them to enjoy, the flower of the life of the world, that We may try them thereby. The provision of thy Lord is better and more lasting.’ (Qur’an 20:131) ‘Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’ (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21)

Gingrich’s call for a federal law banning Shariah has gone unheeded so far. But at the local level, nearly two dozen states have introduced or passed laws in the past two years to ban the use of Shariah in court cases. The sponsor of an Oklahoma measure banning Shariah approved by voters last fall described it as “a pre-emptive strike.” Gerald Allen, the Alabama state senator who sponsored a bill banning Shariah, when asked for a definition, could not say what it was. “I don’t have my file in front of me,” he told reporters. “I wish I could answer you better.” In Tennessee, lawmakers sought to make following Shariah a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison — until they learned that their effort would essentially make it illegal to be Muslim in their state.

Anti-Muslim, conservative think-tanker Frank Gaffney declared preposterously last year that “Americans across this country are struggling to understand the true nature of the threat we face from Shariah. They are entitled to straight talk about the extent to which it is being insinuated, promoted, and legitimated not only in mosques but by banks, academic institutions, and government agencies.” Like his buddies in the hate camp, he singles out Islam as the one religion that cannot be accommodated in any of these institutions. It is based on the scare-mongering notion that once a court allows a financial institute to offer Shariah-compliant financing, it won’t take too long for an imam in a mosque to be allowed to flog an adulterer and an adulteress with a hundred stripes. (Qur’an 24:2)

Other Islamophobes, like the conservative Center for Security Policy, assert that all Muslims are bound to work to establish an Islamic state in the U.S. But if this assertion is true — and the very allegation that every Muslim in America is a national security threat — should not Dearborn, the Detroit suburb, which is home to the largest community of Arabs in the U.S., have seen the Islamic theocracy movement creeping in? After all, Muslims first moved to Dearborn nearly a century ago to work in the factories of the Ford motor company! And yet after five or six generations, Dearborn’s Muslims have not sought to see the city run in accordance with the Shariah.

So, why this vicious accusation labeled against Muslim Americans? Are these politicians, who cry ‘Shariah’, engaged in one of the oldest and dirtiest political traditions — xenophobic demagoguery? Are they throwing around a word simply because it scares some voters, much like what the Nazis, in particular, did against the Jews of Germany and what the Christians, in general, did against Jews throughout history?

These demagogues forget that American courts are governed by American law, which has long provided that parties to contracts can provide for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (such as arbitration). As noted last year by Andrew Silow-Carroll, Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, among those alternative mechanisms is the beit din, or rabbinic law court. Every day Jews go before batei din to arbitrate real estate deals, nasty divorces, and business disputes. “In fact, according to the Beth Din of America,” wrote Silow-Carroll, “Jewish law does not allow a Jew to be a plaintiff in a secular court without first obtaining permission from a Jewish court. Permitting people to settle their disputes in their own religious courts is not a ‘replacement’ of American law, but a time-honored expression of religious freedom and accommodation.” If this be the reality, why a different yardstick for Muslims when they don’t have even an equivalent of the Jewish Beth Din in America?

Never mind that most Muslim countries do not enforce the Shariah laws of punishment prescribed in the Qur’an, what is so striking about Gingrich and the other Sharia-phobes is their lack of faith in the Constitution, the American legal system, and the American people themselves.

As Amy Sullivan recently noted in the USA Today, the anti-communist Red Scare of the 1950s made broad use of guilt by innuendo and warnings about shadowy conspiracies. She suggested, “If GOP candidates insist they are not doing the same thing to ordinary Muslims, they can prove it by explaining what they believe sharia is and whether they’re prepared to ban the consideration of all religious codes from civil arbitration. Anything less is simply fear mongering.”

The far right is long on fear mongering and short on providing supportive evidence. ‘Shariah’ has become their code word and symbol to exploit American voters’ fears and engage in Islam- and Muslim-bashing without any push-back because nobody, including most of the candidates, knows what it is. They scare ordinary Americans with their monster, and then they want to take credit for saving the people from their own creation.

It’s no surprise that two candidates could not resist playing the “Muslim card” in the recent GOP debate. Herman Cain insisted, “There have been instances in New Jersey and Oklahoma where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia Law.”
Cain wants to question Muslims about their commitment to the Constitution ‘to make sure we have people committed to the Constitution working for this country.’ But he wouldn’t do the same with Christians or Jews! Newt Gingrich could not afford to be left behind, and said: “I’m in favor of saying to people, ‘If you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration,’ period.”

As a Muslim American, I would like to ask these Republican politicians: when did Bush’s Global War on Terror become a war on American Muslims? Didn’t GW Bush himself say on September 17, 2001: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country?” “And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect,” said Bush.

In closing, let me echo what Professor John Esposito wrote in his recent Washington Post article: “To those Republicans who continue to stoke the flames of fear and bigotry to attract media attention and benefit their own political careers, it’s time to call a spade a spade, a bigot a bigot and stop those who would resurrect the intolerance of the past and add Muslims to a long list of groups that has included Jews, African Americans, World War II Japanese Americans and others who have been victims of religious discrimination and racism.”

If the Republican politicians don’t stop this hateful campaign against Muslim Americans, no Muslim would ever vote for them, and not even their cronies that once campaigned for Bush.

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