The Islamophobia in America is quite unique. Even more than a decade after September 11th attack, people continue to label Arab-Americans and Muslims as terrorists who want to take away “American freedom”. Since I highly doubt any Muslims or Arabs I encountered on the street know how to make homemade bombs much like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his late brother, I don’t feel any local threat within my area that celebrates religious freedom.
However, I might be one of the minority that holds a certain skepticism over local Islamic threats. People around the world, especially right-wing politicians, believe that someday these radical Muslims would take over the country and establish their own Iranian theocracy. I mean, remember those rumors about President Barack Obama secretly practices Islam because of his father’s muslim heritage? And what about the Park51 building in New York City? Or Pastor Terry Jones’ burning of Quran? Or “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”? That really drew some heats. In the previous Presidential election, GOP candidates like Newt Gingrich felt the need to speak out against the menace of “sharia,” a path in Arabic, referring to Sharia law from Middle Eastern countries.
Sharia law is a body of Islamic law, and it legally regulates the public and some private aspect of people’s lives, including politics, economics, and other social issues. Think of it as the constitution for Muslims, but glossed over with words of Quran, instead of Enlightenment ideals.
Speaking of enlightenment, it is very unlikely that American citizens will live in under the Islamic law because the law itself is unconstitutional in a first place. The first amendment of United States’ Constitution stated that the Congress should not make a law under establishment of any religious belief. The founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, had a large influences from well-known thinkers like John Locke while writing the constitution. John Locke believed that neither the state should control the religions nor should the religions control the state because this would provide a better way for citizens to be religious and enable them be more true to their spiritual ideals. However, the history of Islam has some conflicts with the modern secular ideology.
In a nation of Iran, a well-known theocratic nation, there were “zig-zagged” moments between secular and Islamic government in their history; most notably the Pahlavi regime. They were so ruthless in their secularism that not only did they replace the Sharia with a civil system, but also forbade Islamic clothes and Iranians to do Islam activities. This kind of prohibition got so ugly that it lead to revolution between the people and the government. To quote celebrated religious scholar Karen Armstrong: “the nationalism of the Pahlavis was directly hostile to Islam, since it tried to sever the country’s connection with Shiism and based itself on the ancient Persian culture of the pre-Islamic period.”
While reformers pointed out that the democratic ideals never harm Islam, part of the difficulty lay in the way that the West formulated democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In Islam, it is God and not the people who gives a government legitimacy. This human advancement could seem like an idolatry, since it under God’s sovereignty. But it was not impossible for the Muslim countries to introduce a Western form of government, and it had often been tainted in practice. However, because of American support for the unpopular Muhammad Reza Shah, who denied Iranians fundamental human rights that democracy was supposed to guarantee, Muslims were disappointed the fact that they expected to submit to cruel dictatorship. Therefore, it was difficult for Muslims to set up a modern democratic-state, in which religion was regulated to the private sphere.
This conflict within political ideology in Iran came to an end when the Shah resigned. But the happiness that came after didn’t last forever when the majority of people support the Islamic Republic. Thus, this is where Sharia Law returned to Middle Eastern politics, as fundamentalist Muslims on the rise.
This fringe group within Islam has caught the American mass media’s attention during modern time, mostly after 9/11 attack on New York City. In last decade, we see Christian Rights and outspoken New Atheist intellectuals on television voiced against the religion of Islam; even arguing that Islam is the new fascism. The reason for giving fundamentalist Muslims attention is not only because of terrorist threats to America, but to raise the awareness of their treatment on gays, women, and non-Muslims.
The Taliban uses its violent and literal interpretation of Sharia Law to rule Middle Eastern countries and restrict the people’s liberty. However, its actions are completely opposed to the practice of the Prophet. Their cherry-picked vision of religion perverts the faith and turns it in the opposite direction of what was intended.
Many atheist activists made misguided quotes in favor of rationality over “superstition” that “science leads you to the moon; religion leads you to the building,” arguing that religions are the source of all violence against humanity. The truth is, the ringleader of destruction of the World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta, was not much of the “devout” Muslim the media portrayed him to be. According to various news sources, Atta and other hijackers have made “at least six trips” to Las Vegas and drink heavily, cavorting with lap dancers, and bringing call girls to their homes. If these terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in the name of Islam, then how come they committed un-Islamic things?
Muslim Americans never deserve the discriminations ignited by the fear-mongering right wing media. If this conflict between the United States and the Middle East never happened, then many Muslims would have equal rights. In fact, believe it or not, the majority of Muslim American voters supported Republican George W. Bush back in the 2000 presidential election. However, their support for the Republican Party ended when more and more members of the party spread ignorance against Muslims, advocated war on Middle East and treated Sharia Law like communism.
As mentioned before, there is no way today’s United States government will adopt Sharia Law, even though our President’s Kenyan father was raised Muslim (and later atheist). Come to think of it, there are not many Muslims lawmakers in this country other than Representatives Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Andre Carson from Indiana, who were both African-American. Much like how John F. Kennedy promised that he will never bring up his Catholic faith in politics, Representatives Ellison and Carson do the same; they are not going to make a law based on their personal Islamic beliefs.
Conservative lawmakers proposed a bill that will ban Sharia Law in states. The irony is, these same conservatives, who were shocked when Congressman Ellison’s oath of office was with Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and made their own Sharia Law for their state. Republican Virginia state delegate Bob Marshall proposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill for Virginia National Guardsmen. Marshall’s bill reflects similarities to Sharia Law’s view on homosexuality; it allows discrimination against gays and lesbians just for the Muslim guards of Virginia.
These same people who voiced against Islam and its law, were no better and different than these Islamic fundamentalists. In a country where it celebrates freedom and democracy, these Islamophobic right-wingers trying to pass numerous bills that will restrict and regulate people’s lifestyles. The fear of Sharia Law is absolutely unnecessary and we should stop having this Cold-War mentality. And also, we should look at the political roots of conflicts between the West and Islamic nation, rather than blaming the religion of Islam itself.
By Jay Whang