After Nice, revisiting the politics of the anti-Shariah movement

Manzoor Cheema • Jul 20, 2016
Activists with Muslims for Social Justice protested the passage of an anti-Shariah law by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In the wake of the massacre in Nice, France, many people united to mourn and heal together. Sadly, others decided to exploit the tragedy and attack Muslims. In one example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for a loyalty test for Muslims who should be deported if they believe in “Shariah” law. Once again, the specter of Shariah has become a political tool to spread fear and hatred against Muslims.

The anti-Shariah movement: A closer look

Throughout the country, the anti-Sharia movement has been launched as a tool to demonize Muslims and advance right-wing agenda. This is largely based on the anti-Muslim legal work by David Yerushalmi, who stated a clear objective of creating a paranoia against Shariah and Muslims. Talking about anti-Sharia legislation, he told The New York Times, “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose … the purpose was heuristic – to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”

However, Yerushalmi’s model American Laws for American Court (ALAC) has indeed led to the passage of anti-Shariah laws by states throughout the country. These laws are introduced to prevent the mythical threat of Shariah law taking over the U.S. legal system.

North Carolina provides just one example of the organized Islamophobia movement influencing local legislature to pass anti-Muslim laws. Rep. Chris Whitmire, Republican member of NC General Assembly representing Transylvania County, introduced anti-Shariah law that passed the state House in 2013. Rep. Whitmire distributed a document developed by American Public Policy Alliance (APPA), in order to rebut legal objections to this bill. APPA has a deep relationship with David Yerushalmi. Yerushalmi serves as a counsel for the APPA, and his model anti-Shariah legislation is employed by the APPA.

The APPA also has a close relationship with virulent anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel, who is the founder of ACT! For America. ACT! For America has chapters throughout the country that promote anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim legislation. Act! For America chapters in North Carolina urged its members to contact Gov. McCrory to sign the anti-Shariah bill – HB 522. Based on information posted on their website, Cumberland Conservatives, members were informed that the passage of HB 522 in North Carolina is a “top priority” for ACT! For America (national).

Anti-Shariah bills have become everyone’s problem

Anti-Shariah legislation is a tool to spread fear and advance divide-and-conquer agenda by the right-wing forces. Legislators who pass anti-Shariah laws are also likely to demonize and oppress other marginalized groups. Based on a study of more than one-hundred anti-Sharia laws introduced between 2011 and 2013, the non-profit organization Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found a heavy overlap with other restrictive laws. Eighty percent of the legislators who introduced anti-Shariah bills also introduced laws that targeted women, LGBTQ folks, workers’ unions, voters and immigrants.

As we witness a horrible tragedies across the world, coupled with rising anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States, the need to work together for a more inclusive and just society is more clear than ever. We must pay heed to Martin Luther King’s prophetic message, “Those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war.”​

Manzoor Cheema is a fellow at the Center for New Community.
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