Nations with formal commitments to free religious expression have gradually produced unrelenting demands for restriction, adopting a chauvinistic ethos generally reserved for the far-right. Indeed, while Western Europe poises itself to confront a perceived Islamic “invasion,” officials in the United States are continually sanctioning the anti-Muslim diatribes of their more conservative political bodies.
Whatever legacy these sentiments aim to protect, whether they bolster a secular identity or a Christian one, they always betray a concern for tradition over collaboration. For the politicians behind these efforts, the historical character of a people (“their” people) always trumps the concerns of minority populations, whereby any argument that contradicts this character is quashed out-of-hand.
There’s another word for this: nationalism, which should never be confused for patriotism.
Thus, the recent attempts to legitimize Islamophobia, particularly in the “anti-Sharia” mandates of numerous state legislatures, are merely attempts to coerce the American public into an increasingly intolerant culture of isolationism; these efforts are nothing more than a nod to a persistent strand of ultra-nationalism and the people that boast it as “truth.”
Though it may have surprised many when some state legislatures began proposing measures to ban Sharia law, the framing was quite expected.
In line with a more intensely conservative interpretation of U.S. law, the earliest manifestations of these efforts in 2010 — OK HJR 1056, AZ HB 2379, AZ SB 1026 — outline Sharia as existing amongst the “legal precepts of other nations or cultures,” “precepts” which are wholly incompatible with the “Anglo-American legal tradition and principles on which the United States was founded” –quoted here from Arizona’s SB 1026.
There’s no need to dig any further, for the writers of these first measures have stated it as succinctly as anyone could: the issue of Constitutional sanctity is, in this case, already entangled in the concept of a fixed identity, the “Anglo-American legal tradition,” i.e. their version of “what an American looks like.”
And so topples the façade of true American liberty built around these nationalistic arguments. Clearly, these efforts focus on favoring conservative political tradition over actual justice. Though not worded as strongly, subsequent pieces of state legislation – WY HJR 8, Texas HJR 57 – are still being focused on divorcing “religious or cultural law” from the American legacy.
But that’s not even the half of it.
In 2010 Tennessee proposed and passed HB 3768/SB 3470, which was followed closely by Louisiana’s HB 785. Both of these bills prohibited considerations of the “legal system of another state, foreign jurisdiction or foreign country” (see HB 3768).
The American Public Policy Alliance, a legal advocacy group, claims these victories under the banner of its “American Laws for American Courts” initiative, which includes examples of “model legislation.” Though the Tennessee and Louisiana bills do share similarities with the APPA’s examples, it is unclear whether or not such models actually helped craft the legislation.
And now, it would seem, Islamophobia is spreading like a trendy rash.
Whatever their origins, the aforementioned bills have spurred four other states to craft similar legislation “almost verbatim,” according to Gavel to Gavel, the newsletter of the National Center for State Courts.
Introduced in 2011, all four of these bills – AR SB 97, KS HB 2087, NE LB 647 and OK HB 1552 – are still on the table. Additionally, the language of a bill proposed, though not yet introduced, in Florida would also mimic these. What’s worse, other bills utilizing this language of “foreign law” also remain on the table this year in other states: AK SB 88, GA HB 45, IN SJR 16, MS HB301 and HB 505, SC SB 444 and TX HB 911.
These legislative efforts to stanch Islam in the U.S. are ultimately framed through, one, the issue of sovereignty and, two, nationalistic notions of American identity.
With a few exceptions, these bills don’t outwardly malign Sharia law, but vaguely determine a “legal tradition” that remains irreconcilable to “cultural” forces from the outside. At first glance, many wouldn’t find this legislation qualitatively nativist, or nationalist — which is exactly what these legislators are hoping for; in fact, many of us might accept its reasoning as “common sense”: of course, why wouldn’t the United States ban “foreign” law?
But then again, in any political context, to appeal to someone’s “common sense” is so often to hope that you’ve stopped them from ever really thinking critically about an important issue.
To designate these bills as truly exclusionary, as truly Islamophobic, it might help to look at the “usual suspects” behind them.
That statement about “Anglo-American” character was written by state Senator Russell Pearce (R-AZ-18), who has been involved in all of the subsequent Arizona bills noted above. Pearce has had close ties with neo-Nazi border patrol activist JT Ready and is known as a staunch opponent of immigration. Behind the Texas laws is State Representative Leo Berman (R-TX-6), and supporting HJR 1056 are Oklahoma State Representatives Charles Key (R-OK-90) and Randy Terrill (R-OK-53), both are renowned anti-immigrant politicians.
Furthermore, all three are members of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a group closely tied to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), founded by cornerstone white nationalist John Tanton.
Their collective motivation almost substantiates itself, considering Pearce’s words above.
It’s not simply about protecting U.S. law; it’s about eradicating social elements perceived as “outside” a national identity. Their close ties with the anti-immigrant movement en masse evidence this character, exhibiting that the hard-line far-right is advancing further and further into mainstream political discourses.
Surely, without opposition to this legislation, more popular movements will begin incorporating the language of these nationalist radicals.
For a comprehensive list and legal analysis of these bills, visit the Gavel to Gavel here.