The Common Good
March 2012

Sharia Hysteria

by Danny Duncan Collum | March 2012

Muslim cops and football coaches (oh my!) -- the next step in the right wing's efforts to keep Americans in fear.

THE ISLAMOPHOBIC wave, which has been building in America at least since the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, washed up on the shores of pop culture at the end of last year. That’s when the Lowe’s chain of home improvement stores caved to far-right pressure and pulled its commercials from the TLC cable channel reality show All-American Muslim.

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The pressure campaign against All-American Muslim was spearheaded by a fringe outfit called the Florida Family Association (FFA), which was able to generate a mass email campaign to advertisers based on a claim that the show “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.” This, according to the FFA, is because the show depicts Muslim cops and football coaches, but doesn’t show any “honor killings” or Muslims being persecuted for converting to Christianity.

A few things are shameful about this whole flap. One is that it was over such a tedious, mind-numbing reality show. Another is that a one-man band, which is what the Florida Family Association essentially is, could hijack the mass media stage without any questions being raised about its legitimacy until after the damage was done. The episode highlights all the potential dangers of instant “digital democracy” and sort of makes me nostalgic for the days of the pony express.

But the worst thing about the whole affair is that the FFA’s bogus claims about “sharia law” are right in lockstep with the official talking points of the Republican Far Right. In recent months, “sharia law” seems to have taken the place in their discourse that was once occupied by the phrase “homosexual agenda.” Both phrases were concocted to imply an overt conspiratorial threat that simply did not exist, and then lay that threat at the feet of a designated scapegoat group.

This has been all over the place lately. Newt Gingrich recently alleged that the imposition of sharia law threatens American civilization. Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum both signed a pledge issued by an Iowa Religious Right outfit swearing to oppose both gay marriage and recognition of sharia law. In recent months three state legislatures (Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arizona) have passed bills ordering judges in those states to refuse to consider sharia, or any other foreign or religious law, in rendering decisions. Except, of course, when it involves corporations doing business with repressive Islamic states—they got an exemption.

According to The New York Times, this sudden emergence of “sharia” as a conservative buzz word is no accident. A story by Andrea Elliott traces the strategy to the connection between a lawyer (and former West Bank settler) named David Yerushalmi and a well-connected Washington neo-con operative, Frank Gaffney. Yerushalmi provided the amped-up hyperbole; Gaffney provided the connection to real conservative organizations, and nature took its course.

All this fanning of flames about a supposed Muslim threat among us probably became inevitable the day that Nidal Malik Hassan opened fire at Fort Hood. The Right has thrived off of gay-bashing for more than a decade, but that is becoming a losing issue as the cultural tide has plainly turned. Muslim extremist football coaches are simply the next logical step in the right wing’s endless struggle to keep Americans paralyzed by fear.

It was probably also inevitable that self-identified Christians would become a central part of this campaign. I would recommend that all those conservative Christians so determined to defend the faith against an imagined Islamic threat check out the movie Of Gods and Men and see what some real-life Christians did when faced with a real threat from real radical Islamic terrorists—then ask themselves, “WWJD?”

Danny Duncan Collum teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. Find out about his novel White Boy and more at www.dannyduncancollum.net.

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