Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
The horrible attacks in Norway reminds us that we need to beware of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States. Politicians, in particular, should not be fanning the flames.
Unfortunately, many politicians have been warning of a “stealth jihad” coming in the form of Muslims quietly usurping the Constitution and forcing Islamic law on the nation.
More than a dozen state legislatures in the country are considering legislation that would ban the use of foreign law — and especially Islamic law, known as “Shariah.” Oklahoma has already done so through a statewide referendum, though a judge has imposed an injunction on the measure.
American courts, the argument goes, have become so beholden to multiculturalism that they are allowing Islamic law to trump American jurisprudence. Muslims, the fearmongers say, will exploit American political correctness until, suddenly, the United States of America becomes the Islamic Republic of America.
This is pure fiction.
There is no Muslim campaign to take over the United States through the courts. Muslim Americans account for only about 1 percent to 2 percent of the population. The United States is not about to wake up to some Taliban-like theocracy, as the horror story has it.
Anti-Muslim pundits like to point to a series of civil court cases, some dating back 15 years or more (how’s that for impending doom?), where the courts considered Islamic customs or principles in their decisions as proof that Muslims are taking away the independence of American courts. But this argument is a red herring. American courts routinely consider religion (not just Islam) when cases involve the protection of religious freedom or civil arbitrations.
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report after studying the cases frequently cited as proof of “creeping Shariah.”
“When the court cases cited by anti-Muslim groups are examined more closely, the myth of the ‘Shariah threat’ to our judicial system quickly disappears,” the civil liberties group found. “Far from confirming some fabricated conspiracy, these cases illustrate that our judicial system is alive and well, and in no danger of being co-opted or taken over by Islam.”
The report concluded that “the true aim of the recently proposed Shariah bans (is) to denigrate an entire faith system and to deny its followers the same access to the judicial system enjoyed by citizens of other creeds.”
In addition to state legislators, some national political figures have also acted irresponsibly.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has been especially outlandish, saying he wouldn’t feel comfortable appointing a Muslim either to his cabinet or to a federal bench and that communities have the right to ban mosques.
Politicians should stop demonizing Muslims.
One thing we should all learn from the horror in Norway is that when you fuel prejudice, you may be unwittingly inciting wanton acts of violence.
The last thing we need in the United States is our own version of Anders Behring Breivik.
Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is author of “How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America” (The Penguin Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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