The specter of Sharia’s is apparently hunting America. At least that’s what many state legislators erroneously believe. In 2017, 23 bills were introduced in 18 state legislatures seeking to ban Sharia’s (Islamic law), a spike from 14 such bills in 2016. No doubt, the first year of the Trump administration – and the much touted Muslim Ban – contributed to the increase in anti-Muslim hysteria. The bit of good news was that 2017 fell short of the 2011 record of 56 anti-Sharia bills in the midst of the anti-Islam orchestrated frenzy surrounding a proposed Muslim-interfaith community center in lower Manhattan (what detractors called the “Ground Zero Mosque”). Moreover, only two states – Arkansas and Texas – adopted the anti-Sharia legislation; for Texas, this was the third enacted law banning a non-extant threat of foreign regulation in the U.S. court system.
The spike from 2016, however, is still alarming. Several anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian organizations – from the grassroots Act for America to the putative think tank Center for Security Policy – have promoted the falsehood that there’s a surreptitious Muslim conspiracy theory to subvert the U.S. Constitution and enforce Islamic law in the country. Sadly, what is an obviously outlandish idea – less credible than even the Red Menace scare of the 1950s – is believed by many Americans long accustomed to narratives that depict Arabs and Muslims as hostile anti-American terrorists. (As documented by the late Jack Shaheen, these images long preceded September 11, 2001.) The irony of the anti-Sharia drive is that most of the proponents know that what their selling is an outright fiction. The aim of the anti-Sharia campaign is to stoke fear of American-Arabs and Muslims by portraying them as a threat. In the boogeyman of Sharia, propagandists have found their vehicle for their anti-Muslim campaign. These bigots like to add the caveat that “not all Muslims are terrorists” but their anti-Muslim campaigns spread the defamation that any Muslim or Arab could be. This is meant to sow distrust toward Arab and Muslim neighbors. By branding Muslims as suspect in their patriotism, anti-Sharia agitators hope to marginalize Arabs and Muslims culturally and politically. Such campaigns mirror past anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish movements, which sought to disenfranchise disparaged communities.
These campaigns are only effective if American Arabs and Muslims remain absent from the conversation. Once fellow citizens and our legislators know that we are their neighbors, colleagues, friends and constituents, the fear of Arabs and Muslims will vanish in most hearts. The fact that only two of the proposed 23 bills passed last year is a testament to Arab and Muslim grassroots mobilization. ADC has been at the forefront of these efforts to educate legislators and combat prejudice and promote understanding and tolerance. Arabs and Muslims must continue to speak out and tell our stories so that fellow Americans can see that the anti-Sharia campaign is the work of miserably mendacious racists. And when the Arab next door knocks on your door, he or she just wants to invite the neighbors over again for hummus and tabbouleh.