Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tennessee's Anti-Sharia Legislation Puts Muslim Americans At Risk

Tennessee joined the ignoble list this week of states considering anti-Sharia legislation. But unlike some other state anti-Shariah efforts in which the proposed legislation avoids explicit mention of Sharia law, like a recent bill introduced in both houses of Georgia's state legislature, the bill introduced by Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron (R) grants the state's Attorney General the power to define and prosecute suppoters of "Sharia organizations." The proposed legislation allows the Attorney General to designate these 'Shariah organizations,' which the bill defines as
"Two (2) or more persons conspiring to support, or acting in concert in support of, sharia or in furtherance of the imposition of sharia within any state or territory of the United States."
Individuals suspected of supplying financial or material support to designated organizations would face the possibility of a felony charge and up to 15 years in prison.

While Tennessee is hardly the first state to consider such outrageous and blatantly bigoted legislation, the proposed bill might be the most explicit to date in terms of its condemnation of Shariah law, which it refers to as "treasonous" and which it suggests is incompatible with the values of the Constitution.

From the proposed bill:
Sharia as a political doctrine requires all its adherents to actively support the establishment of a political society based upon sharia as foundational or supreme law and the replacement of any political entity not governed by sharia with a sharia political order.

Sharia requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America's constitutional republic, including the representative government of this state with a political system based upon sharia.

The knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the United States government and the government of this state through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions by the likely use of imminent criminal violence and terrorism with the aim of imposing sharia on the people of this state.
The growing conservative effort to legislate against Sharia law reinforces the worst sort of lies and stereotypes about Islam and its adherents, and the practice of legislating through fear and genuine or willful ignorance has consequences that lawmakers across the country must recognize.

Murfreesboro, a small town in central Tennessee, is the home of a continuing controversy around the construction of a proposed Islamic center and mosque. The debate over the legality of the center's construction (opponents have actually submitted arguments to the court that the center should not be granted the same zoning permissions for land use as other religious institutions because Islam is not a real religion), has born witness to the very real consequences of the sort of ginned up, hateful rhetoric currently working its way through the Tennessee legislature.

In August, during the height of the controversy over the non-Ground Zero non-mosque, the construction site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was the target of an arson attack, followed soon after by reports of gunshots in the vicinity of the construction site. These events have reportedly left Muslims in central Tennessee living in fear for their safety, and compelled nearby mosques and other Muslim institutions to even request federal protection during prayer services.

Conservative politicians in Tennessee and the rest of the country must realize that their ignorant, opportunistic grand-standing on the issue of Sharia law doesn't take place in a void. Such bigoted, misguided rhetoric has consequences, and those consequences will be felt first and foremost by our nation's already victimized Muslim population. The arson attack in Murfreesboro is only one of an escalating number of recent anti-Muslim attacks across the country. So far these attacks have been limited to intimidation and the destruction of property, but if conservative lawmakers continue to use Islam and the trumped-up, imaginary threat of Sharia law as a whipping boy in order to rally their base, it is only a matter of time before one of the lashes cuts deep enough to earn conservative Islamophobia a body count.

Civility be damned; this is a matter of basic human decency, and until conservative lawmakers abandon this inflammatory, Islamophobic rhetoric, they are putting the lives of American citizens at risk.

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