Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beware of Sharia Mania

Calm down, America. Radical Islamists are not instituting Sharia law throughout our country. Nor is the president working with them to subvert our Constitution and take away our liberties.

Yet these are the kinds of claims some anti-Muslim groups, funded to the tune of over $42 million by seven foundations around the country, want us to believe, according to a recent report by The Center for American Progress entitled “Fear Inc.: The Roots Of the Islamophobia Network In America.”

This reminds me all too much of the anti-Semitic sentiment promoted by numerous writers, philosophers, politicians and even clergy in the 1920’s and 30’s. They sought to convince everyone that Jews were out to take over the media, infiltrate institutions of higher learning, gain control of the financial system and soon dominate the world.

We all know the historical results of this kind of paranoia. Adolph Hitler, who came to power in part by whipping up support for scapegoating all Jews, led a movement that annihilated some six million of them and launched a war that resulted in 50 million people dead worldwide and the near destruction of the very civilization he was purporting to save.

Also in my lifetime, some Americans prior to John F. Kennedy’s election became convinced that Roman Catholics were poised to impose canon law on the U.S. Some groups of evangelicals went to the polls in droves because they feared the Vatican would soon hold sway over the affairs of the nation.

Now the focus is on our Muslim neighbors, who make up approximately 0.8 percent of our population, and who have become the focus of our current fears and suspicions, as in recently published reports like “Sharia: The Threat to America.”

Evangelical writer John G. Stackhouse, a professor at Regent College in British Columbia, writes of this book, ”I sympathize with much of the report’s concern. After 9/11, no one doubts that there are Muslims of extreme beliefs and practices who act as enemies of the American state and of many American values” ...(but) “the report shows itself in some key ways to be not only anti-Islamic in far too sweeping a way, but anti-Christian, too.”
Jewish author Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, writes, “The threat of the infiltration of Sharia, or Islamic law, into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent years... despite the complete absence of evidence of the unconstitutional application of foreign or religious law in our judicial system. “

Examples of specific issues being raised include legal provisions for Muslims to have alternatives to borrowing or loaning money with interest, since usury is banned in the Koran (as it is in parts of the Hebrew Bible and in Christian tradition). But such a provision is not a matter of imposing sharia law on anyone, rather an attempt to permit the free exercise of ones religion, not unlike Old Order Amish being allowed religious-based exemptions from taking part in the Social Security system or from being required to send their children to school beyond the 8th grade. It imposes nothing on anyone, and it can even be argued that it reflects what is best about our constitution. No one is submitting to Amish law here.

Above all, as we reflect on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, let's not make the mistake of attributing to the peaceful majority of our Muslim neighbors the motives of those on its radical fringe.

I welcome your comments on this topic and also on a February blog on the same subject.

Addendum: For another reasoned voice on this subject, check out Jewish writer Eliyahu Stern's 9/2/11 op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, "Don't Fear Islam's Law in America."
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