Health care reform. Muslim community centers. Almost without exception, this is a transparently stupid and meaningless way to communicate little more than, “I disagree.” But it’s undeniably appealing because, in addition to being quite bad, Weimar and Nazi Germany both had a great many things in them (flags! parades! laws!), and so if one squints very hard, one can find an analogy to cherry pick. Most of these things infuriate people like myself who take the facts of history quite seriously.
This is why it seems so strange to finally see something that legitimately bears comparison to one of history’s greatest horrors: the political mainstreaming of Muslim-baiting.
Last week, Newt Gingrich suggested before the Values Voter Summit a ban on U.S. courts applying sharia law. That the idea is transparently illegal or that sharia law is not actually a definable doctrine is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that (1) Newt Gingrich is the former Speaker of the House, a credible mainstream figure within the Republican Party, (2) he believes it will be politically beneficial to propose such a thing; (3) there are apparently people who believe that Muslims want to take over and remake the legal system, and could do same.
Oklahoma has a similar and similarly perplexing ballot initiative up for a vote this November.
Perhaps most striking is that this rise in anti-Muslim fervor is disconnected from the events one might expect to draw concern. Anti-Muslim sentiment was neither this powerful nor this mainstream in the years following 9/11.
Instead, the sentiment coincides with the economic downturn and the election of a nonwhite president, two events one might expect to promote a more generalized status anxiety. Employment complaints filed by Muslims, for example, spiked in 2009. (Tellingly, this was before all the talk of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” which was as much a product of steadily mainstreaming anti-Muslim sentiment as it was a catalyst for it.)
That potent mix of economic and social fear is the soil in which collective madness can flourish, given the right seed.
This is not at all to suggest the U.S. is teetering on the brink of a totalitarian regime dedicated to culling ethnic scapegoats. Far from it. Our institutions are too strong, and our society is too stable.
But it is to suggest that the direction the discourse has taken is a dangerous one, attempting to utilize powerful forces that could readily get out of control. What would it take for the “No More Mosques!” demonstrations in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to descend into outright vandalism? Is it unimaginable that Muslim-owned storefronts could be smashed and homes defaced?
When Newt Gingrich proposes banning the use of sharia law, he is telling us, in roughly so many words, that Muslims want to displace the American way of life, and that we must stop them. Politically expedient or not, there is no way he can reasonably expect to control all the emotions produced when something like that is believed and internalized.
Not much justifies invoking that particular slice of history. The PATRIOT Act was not like the Enabling Act. Mandated private health coverage was not a chief component of Nazi repression. A public discourse that legitimizes targeted bigotry in the name of restoring a lost way of life, on the other hand, has been central to some of history’s worst moments.
It’s quite a long way down, but there’s no cause for playing this close to the edge.
ALLISON REILLY: The direction the discourse is going is a dangerous one. The current one direction is one towards living in fear and scapegoating our problems on innocent parties just so there’s something tangible and visible to blame. This is why those of us who see through all the rhetoric need to speak up and to speak the truth about these ridiculous claims.
Gingrich’s claims are false. I live with a Muslim; he and other Muslims have no intention of usurping this country for the sake of their own gain. Bu even if Sharia Law in any aspect were to come up in a court of law, it would probably be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court through an extensive appeals process from the very beginning. Second, if it does go that far, no Supreme Court would allow for it, because Sharia Law would violate the separation of church and state. It wouldn’t be ruled in favor of freedom of religion because Muslims can still practice their religion without imposing Sharia Law on non-Muslims. Third, even if all that were to take place, it would take years. It’s not a quick process, despite what pundits and politicians may have some people believing.
What many people are conveniently forgetting is that the complaints made about Sharia Law can be found in the Bible as well, such as the stoning adulterers and criminals, and the criminalization of homosexuality. We understand those things are wrong and they are already against the law. To overturn all that, we would need a 100 percent infiltration of our justice system. It took this country up till the 1980s to get a woman on the Supreme Court. We have yet to have a female president, let alone all the tug-o-war surrounding our current biracial president. I’d wager another 100 years before we nominate a Muslim to the court, let alone another 100,000 before the court is made up entirely of Muslims. I don’t think Sharia Law has any chance of becoming part of American law, unless that were the case. So let’s be smart about this and not buy into all these conspiracy theories.