The Sad Familiarity of the Shar’ia Fable

With Rick Santorum’s… inexplicable comments in New Hampshire, it seems clear that congressional Republicans, and presumptive Republican presidential candidates, intend to drag the Shar’ia law “issue” — the odd fear that American Muslims intend to import Shar’ia law into the U.S. as the first step towards a global caliphate — into the 2012 campaign.

Why? It remains the case that no reasonable man would actually fear the onset of Islamic law in this secular nation, especially because, setting aside paranoia and referring however momentarily to common sense, both left and right would be allied against any cognizable threat. More, the only organizations or persons actually advocating the importation of Islamic law, it seems, are shells, effectively props, created by the overactive imaginations of young conservative functionaries with criminal histories. What do conservatives get from this highly publicized, quixotic, and nonsensical quest?

Well it does provide, at least, an excuse to attempt to restrict the religious rights of unpopular minorities: Tennessee, recall, debated a bill to elevate the individual practice of Shar’ia to a felony, thus criminalizing the giving of alms, trampling any fair interpretation of the First Amendment, and violating the right’s favored reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Shar’ia fears also provide an additional “reason,” such as it is, to distrust Muslim attempts at integration.

That may be reason enough, and it wouldn’t be the first time in American history that conservatives leveraged myths of foreign religious dominance to oppress vulnerable minorities. For the better part of a century — from the Know-Nothings, to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign — religious bigots stoked anti-Catholic sentiment with fears that Catholics would somehow force America to submit to Rome as, one imagines, some transatlantic rebirth of Charlemagne’s Papal states. The song, containing the groundless suggestion that foreign religions somehow undermine American hegemony, ought to be familiar, and it remains painfully dissonant.

For the better part of a year, the right has abetted or suborned a concerted campaign to marginalize our Islamic fellow citizens. This is a moral issue, but it’s also a national security issue. The lesson of England and greater Europe ought to be that, when it comes to new immigrant communities, alienation goes hand-in-hand with radicalization. If we’re to take the threat of homegrown terrorism seriously (as House Republicans pretend to do), we’d do well to ask those screaming the loudest to put down their megaphones, and pick up a mirror.



  1. Were his comments inexplicable for their content or their neccesity? I would agree with the latter – we have no threat of sharia law in this country – but the first part, the actual content, was accurate.

  2. The necessity: it’s fairly clear that Shar’ia and jihadism are evil. I just don’t know why it’s an urgent matter, or why Republicans are obsessed with checking these little boxes. “Obama’s said terrorism must be stopped but he’s never condemned ‘islamofascism’! Why does Obama hate America?” etc.

  3. Well, I’ll be perfectly happy to question the contents as well.

    Let’s say that two Muslim Americans enter into a contract and mutually agree that it should be controlled (if that’s the proper term) by Sharia rules. Is that an expression of “Jihadism”? Why is that “evil”?

    For that matter, the religious stipulation that Muslims should pray five times a day and not eat pork are also Sharia. Why is that “evil”?

    Sharia is a term that covers an incredible lot of conceptual ground, but for the most part, it seems that people are perfectly content with just using it as some sort of big, nebulous bogeyman, without never taking the trouble to actually try to understand what it means.

    1. Then maybe the people speaking out need to be more specific about those aspects of Sharia law that are troublesome.

    2. Then “maybe Rick Santorum/Gingrich/Beck/Palin/etc. should start making sense”? Yes, this seems fair :)

  4. Of course you’re right. To give Santorum the benefit of the doubt — something I probably shouldn’t have done — I read “the evil parts of Shar’ia” instead of “Shar’ia.” Which makes his statements tautologies, I guess.

  5. Exactly a tautology. It would be more helpful if he were to come out and identify those specific elements he sees as threats. But I guess that’d take some actual effort.

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