Is Fear of Sharia the New Red Scare?
From The Mark
by Hamed Aleaziz Journalist.
A proposed Tennessee law could criminalize religious gatherings of two or more Muslims.
In the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, an outpouring of hope and relief swept across the United States. After 10 years, the U.S. had finally found the man responsible for 9-11, and, naturally, people were in a celebratory mood. For American Muslims, bin Laden’s death marked an opportunity for people to move past the suspicious, often xenophobic attitudes toward Islam in the U.S. One American Muslim, a college student named Umar Issa, told The Associated Press, “His death brings an opportunity for understanding between Americans and Muslims. I’m happy about that. The discrimination I’ve faced, my friends have faced – it’s time for that to come to an end.”
Unfortunately for Issa and other American Muslims, the election in 2012 could make the coming year an even worse time to be a Muslim in the U.S. A select group of politicians and media outlets are dividing Americans, painting Muslims in the U.S. as a “threatening” group. This type of suspicion and prejudice threatens the American ideal, which relies on its diverse citizenship working together, rather than against one another.
The media, always eager to stir up sensationalist drama, are particularly keen on controversy during election seasons. If the events of the past year are any indication, Sharia law and its “threat” to Americans could become another fringe issue that receives undue media attention. (Remember the situation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright?) The presumed threat is that Sharia law, or Islamic jurisprudence, could somehow be implemented in the U.S., leading to a Taliban-like takeover of the American justice system. This ludicrous idea has members of the GOP increasingly concerned about “radical” Muslims and their supposed potential to violently shift U.S. politics. What’s lost in the debate is that the American Constitution already guards against the implementation of religious law in any form.
On May 10, Politico reported that “invoking Sharia and casting it as a growing danger at odds with American principles has become a rallying cry for conservatives.” Candidates like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Michele Bachman, and Rick Santorum have already singled out “creeping” Sharia as a serious threat to the U.S. The media have been quick to join the conversation, making the “fear” seem more real and widespread than it actually is. Unfortunately, the supposed fear is being manipulated to pave the way for draconian laws that pose significant consequences for American Muslims’ civil liberties.
Even members of Congress, like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), have held congressional investigations into the threat posed by “radicalized” Muslims in the U.S. Such debates perpetuate xenophobia. In March, two Muslim men on their way to a conference on Islamophobia were kicked off of a Delta Air Lines flight because the pilot was uncomfortable with them being onboard. In the same week, a Muslim woman was kicked off of a Southwest Airlines flight in a similar manner. A dozen American states have proposed legislation to “curb the influence” of Sharia law. In the case of Oklahoma, such legislation has passed – though a judge temporarily prevented the state from enforcing the law.
Tennessee recently passed a law in both chambers of its legislature that would make practising Islam in groups of two or more a “Sharia organization.” The proposed law would render such a practice illegal, with a punishment of up to a 15-year prison term. While it still needs to jump through additional hoops in order to become law, the proposition of such legislation in the first place suggests the ease with which American Muslims’ civil liberties could be infringed upon given the current climate. With the country’s current high unemployment rate, the conspiratorial hallucinations of the Republican candidates may win the attention of frustrated, unemployed Americans.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam party used similar tactics to gain seats in the Dutch parliament in 2010. If the GOP follows suit, the debate could set the U.S. back to the 1950s, when the “Red Scare” enveloped the U.S. in a debate over presumed “threats” to American ideals.
Such debates are leaving American Muslims feeling the scorn of an enflamed sector of American society. But, like in the Netherlands, xenophobic legislation and rhetoric will do nothing to alleviate the economic pains plaguing the country. Given the real challenges facing the U.S., fringe-level, bigoted discussions about irrational fears seem particularly out of place. When will the U.S. return its focus to the things that matter?