Sharia Hysteria

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.

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.

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