Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fox News Can't Get Enough of Islam's Fred Phelps

We have run several stories in recent weeks about conservative fear-mongering over the 'creeping threat' of Sharia law in the United States, but the folks over at Fox and Friends upped the ante this morning during an interview with controversial Muslim 'cleric' Anjem Choudary. Choudary, who has served as the mouthpiece for at least two formally proscribed Islamist organizations in the UK, is planning a protest outside the White House on March 3rd to call for, you guessed it, the establishment of Sharia in the United States.

At first glance, the presence of Mr. Choudary and his uncompromising endorsement of Sharia law as a universally applicable system might seem to confirm pervasive conservative fears over the implementation of Sharia in the US. However, what Fox and Friends host Grethcen Carlson only tepidly points out is that Choudary's sentiments are not at all indicative of the sentiments of most or even a sizable portion of American Muslims, and Carlson entirely fails to mention that Choudary has drawn strong condemnation from the UK's Muslim community for his views and for hosting similar events in the UK.

Writing in in the UK's Guardian newspaper last year, political columnist Medhi Hasan thoroughly debunked Choudary's credentials as a representative of Muslims in the UK and elsewhere:
"Is Choudary an Islamic scholar whose views merit attention or consideration? No. Has he studied under leading Islamic scholars? Nope. Does he have any Islamic qualifications or credentials? None whatsoever."
In the article, Hasan mentions the plans scrapped by Choudary's Islam4UK organization to organize a protest march through the English town of Wootton Bassett - which serves as the point of repatriation for fallen soldiers returning to the UK through the Royal Air Force station at Lyneham - and an open letter sent by Choudary to the grieving families of fallen British soldiers encouraging them to embrace Islam as a means of saving themselves 'from the hellfire.'

So in Mr. Choudary we have a hard-line religious figure who, despite being forced to the fringes of his own faith tradition by the condemnation of his co-religionists, manages to get headlines through a penchant for inappropriately protesting military funerals. What we have, in essence, is a Muslim Fred Phelps, known as the military funeral-protesting, bigoted firebrand who heads up the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

But all similarities aside, there is one overwhelming difference between Choudary and Phelps, and I am not talking about the obvious difference between their respective religions. The difference between Choudary and Phelps is that nobody, and particularly not a top-rated news network, would ever feature Phelps and his particularly abhorrent brand of Christianity as indicative of the religion and its values as a whole. And yet this is the second time this month that Fox News has not only featured a story on Choudary, but featured him live, on the air, propagating his message about bringing Shariah law to the United States (earlier this month, Sean Hannity spent almost a full 15 minutes "debating" Chourdary on his program). Although such antics are sure to get Fox News some serious ratings, the network's obsession with the bogeyman of Sharia law is misleading, dishonest, and poses a very real threat to the Muslim population of the United States.

A recently released poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that viewers who rely on Fox News as their primary news source are significantly more likely to have a negative view of Islam and Muslims. According to the poll,
"41% of Republicans who most trust Fox News believe that American Muslims want to establish Shari'a law as law of the land in the United States, compared to 23% of Republicans who most trust other news sources and 22% of the general public."
With the conservative news media's obvious obsession with Sharia law, and with Anjem Choudary as the face that they have clearly chosen to give its 'creeping' introduction into the United States, these statistics should come as no surprise. Fox News deserves condemnation for their intellectually dishonest and morally hazardous portrayal of Sharia law in the United States, and should immediately cease courting ratings by validating fringe elements of the Muslim faith by giving individuals like Choudary a platform for their vitriolic views.

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