Unnecessary and Harmful Attacks

June 17, 2011

On Wednesday, Representative Peter King (R-NY) held his second round of anti-Muslim congressional hearings. He held the first round back in March, which I critiqued at the time in a Harrisonburg Daily News-Record column. Stephen Prothero, who teaches religion at Boston University, wrote a good piece for CNN criticizing the second round by connecting it to past examples of religious bigotry. Prothero correctly noted that the hearings "betray American values." Similarly, Representative Michael Honda (D-CA) penned a CNN piece comparing the attitude leading to these hearings to the attitude that resulted in his family being put in an internment camp during World War II when he was a kid. Honda wrote:

This time, instead of creating an ethnic enemy, Rep. King is creating a religious enemy. Because of prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of Republican leadership, King is targeting the entire Muslim-American community. Similar to my experience, they are become increasingly marginalized and isolated by our policies.
He added that the hearings are "morally and strategically wrong-headed," "counterproductive," and "un-American." Unfortunately, the King hearings are not the only effort to disenfranchise an entire group of citizens. Republican presidential hopeful and former pizza chain head Herman Cain, who has made several anti-Muslim comments (see post here), recently told Glenn Beck that he would require Muslims--and only Muslims--to take a special loyalty oath to serve in his presidential administration. During the Republican presidential debate on Monday, Cain repeated his attacks on Muslims. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also jumped in to offer his attacks on Muslims, as he has done in the past (see post here). As I noted in my new book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics), Muslims are one of the main disenfranchised classes in our age of confessional politics.

Efforts are growing across the nation to ban Sharia (Islamic law) from being used in American courts, even though this is not a credible threat. In essence, politicians are using exaggerated fear appeals to gain votes. A study by the ACLU shows that U.S. courts are not implementing Sharia. Unfortunately, many of the efforts to get people concerned about this supposed Muslim threat are led by Christians. For instance, the Missouri Baptist newsletter The Pathway claimed there is a threat of Sharia in Missouri. Even worse, The Pathway attacked Muslims for daring to use their rights as citizens to show up at the State Capitol to speak out against anti-Muslim bigotry. Warning that "[d]ozens of Muslim women in head scarves came to the State Capitol," the piece turned to the Missouri Baptist Convention's lobbyist to paint a highly inaccurate account of the lobbying effort:
There is a visual impact of seeing dozens and dozens of women in [head scarves]. What I want to know is, will they bring a bloody wife? Will they bring a wife with a black eye? Will they bring a wife with her arm in a sling? Will they bring those wives to the State Capitol and lobby for Sharia Law? I doubt it.
Rather than arguing for Sharia, the day was actually a time to merely argue against the unnecessarily anti-Sharia legislation for demonizing Muslims (see Columbia Missourian article here). Messer's comment is not only inaccurate but clearly shows that the legislation is poisoning public discourse with harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric (by the way, an anti-Sharia bill passed the State House but died in the State Senate so it looks like Missouri is still in danger until next year!). Later in the article, Messer even argued that the mere fact that Muslims would use their rights as citizens to come to the State Capitol to lobby is proof that there is a Sharia threat:
The Muslim community coming into the State Capitol en masse with the specific political agenda of articulating their desire to apply Sharia Law in Missouri changes the discussion in Missouri from a discussion about what could happen in the future to a debate over a real war of worldviews in our culture in Midwest Missouri.
Such a comment gives credence to the claim that Muslims are being reduced to second-class citizens. Demonstrating the fact that the anti-Muslim movement if full of exaggerated fear appeals is a claim in the article:
The Sharia Law worldview, believe it or not, would build on a lobbying day like April 13 and morph it into several Muslim candidates getting elected, targeting and swaying public opinion, and ultimately convincing the Missouri Supreme Court to be "fair" and "tolerant" as they advance the cause of Sharia. There is no end to the non-assimilating follower of Islam working to subdue every corner of the world—a world which most definitely does include a place called Missouri.
So apparently, Muslims are about to not only take over the courts in Missouri but also suddenly win lots of elections and then make Missouri an Islamic state (which seems even less likely than Harold Camping's claim with his new and improved math that the world will now end in October!). Baptists used to be for religious liberty for all people. Now, many Baptists are sadly making stuff up to demonize and marginalize religious minorities.

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