Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stopping Anti-Sharia Bans Before The Next Election

Blog of Rights
Stopping Anti-Sharia Bans

Late Monday, the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a brief in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a decision to affirm a lower court ruling declaring Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia law unconstitutional.

The case stems from the 2010 elections in which Oklahoma voters were asked to consider State Question 755 (SQ 755)- the "Save Our State Amendment.” The proposed amendment received unprecedented attention. Its author, District Attorney Rex Duncan, was featured in the national media warning Americans of the spreading "cancer" of Islam and “creeping Sharia.”

District Attorney Rex Duncan
The election season hype inflamed the debate, and we witnessed an incumbent who voted against SQ 755 attacked as terrorist a sympathizer by opposing candidates.

Emboldened by the climate of fear and bigotry created by these politicians, anti-Muslim hate groups from near and far began to pump their own agendas. A Florida-based anti-Muslim group poured $50,000 into a robo-call campaign warning Oklahomans that SQ 755 was necessary to prevent Muslim men from raping their wives. Certain church groups welcomed anti-Muslim speakers and posted multi-thousand dollar newspaper ads alleging that Islam invented slavery, and promoted child cruelty.

This anti-Muslim campaign included public officials and private groups that reinforced the fear-mongering and bigotry. For instance, Rep. Lewis Moore and Rep. Sally Kern (who would later attempt to introduce her own anti-foreign law bill) are both part of an anti-Muslim group that meets weekly at a shooting range to discuss politics. One of these meetings included a guest speaker who alleged that President Obama is a secret Muslim connected to the Saudi royal family.

These public smear campaigns were obviously misguided, deceiving, and offensive.  Sharia does not stand for beheadings, stoning, amputations, or rape, as has been suggested.  Sharia is not the source of gender inequality or domestic abuse, as was alleged. And ultimately, Sharia does not contradict the US Constitution as politicians continue to allege today

In reality Sharia serves as a guide for Muslims. It can offer guidance in contracts, charity, diet, and much more. For American Muslims, Sharia has no military, political, or totalitarian element seeking to overthrow our government- as the worst of our political fear-mongers suggest Sharia also mandates that Muslims respect the law of the land (for American Muslims that would be the U.S. Constitution). Potentially the most damning blow to the chorus of anti-Sharia pundits is that the US Constitution will never allow a foreign law to conflict with and replace the laws of our land- it is constitutionally impossible.

So if these anti-Sharia bills are unconstitutional, unnecessary, and damaging to all forms of religious negotiations and business contracts, why are some politicians promoting them?  

I believe these politicians know that anti-Sharia & anti-Foreign law amendments are unconstitutional, and that they will ultimately fail.

However, passing this legislation is not the intent of the politicians. Instead they have proven that their only purpose is to ride the wave of Islamophobia.

Despite the legal fallacies behind these amendments, the public debate surrounding anti-Sharia bills has marginalized and demonized the Muslim Community in America.  A shadow of suspicion and fear has been cast over Muslims as a result of the deliberate misinformation used to scare people into voting for these laws and their authors. By injecting these amendments into public discourse, these politicians have also endorsed the blatant Islamophobia that accompanies them. 

CAIR and the ACLU's efforts to combat this legislation in the court of law will not erase the results it has in the court of public opinion. A persistent effort must be made to combat these hate groups, and the politicians that pander to them. In Oklahoma, the Muslim community found partners in the interfaith community, which understood Sharia to be like the Christian code of ethics, and Islamic arbitration to be like Jewish religious courts.  Oklahoma Muslims were also fortunate to find partners in the business community who regarded bans on foreign law as a threat to international business contracts. Various chambers of commerce are also mindful of the black eye Arizona's intolerant immigration law had on that state's economy. 

However I do not wish to ignore the power of the courts decision in this case. A ruling in favor of CAIR & the ACLU can very well stop legislators in their tracks, before promoting an anti-Sharia or foreign law bill in the future. If that happens, we can begin to push Islamophobia and bigotry out mainstream discourse.

Muneer Awad is the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma in Awad v. Ziriax to challenge SQ755. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. You can follow Muneer on twitter, and on his blog:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Christians Get Pissed Too- Offending the Holy & the Un-Holy Responses

Last week, the Collection Lambert Art Museum in the Southwestern French city of Avignon, was infiltrated by vandals who attacked and maimed certain pieces of art, and physically threatened the museum's security guards.  Throughout the week the Museum employees received death threats and the museum was forced to close when confronted with over 800 protestors outside its doors.

What could have provoked such rage at an art museum?  Christian Sensitivities.

This maybe a shock to those who believe Muslims are the only people in the world who react unreasonably when their religion is slandered and defamed, however this Easter week crisis in France helps us realize that people of all faiths can be easily offended (into action) in response to the defamation of their beliefs, and may even object to the "western idea" of freedom of speech.

Photo from
The instance in France happened to be another chapter in the life of Andres Serrono and his infamous "Piss Christ" photo exhibit, which includes a photo of the crucifix submerged in the artist's urine. Serrono met similar opposition in the US and across the world. Art museums choosing to host Serrono's work have been vandalized, threatened with burnings, and their staff have been threatened with death.

Glen Greenwald recently exposed the misconception that Islam is the exceptional religion that includes members who react violently to offensive material in an article titled "The New York Times' Muslim Problem". Greenwald helps expose the religious fanaticism that violently demands censorship, and he clarifies that it is not exclusive to Muslims. The article labels those who allege this to be uniquely a Muslim problem as "delusional" and influenced by an Anti-Muslim campaign present in American mainstream.

For instance, we don't think twice about play-writes walking the line between Christianity and homosexuality that meet violent opposition from the Christian right, or the Catholic League. Nor do we consider the numerous artworks that some museums dare to show and many rapidly remove in the face of safety and security concerns after receiving hateful threats from offended Christians.

We are told over an over again that Muslims are too sensitive. That Muslims overreact when their Prophet is portrayed as a terrorist in newspapers, or that Muslims overreact to fringe pastors who burn Qurans, and that Muslims do not understand the "Freedom of Speech". But what about people of other faiths who are offended by those seeking only the publicity of stoking the sensitivities of a religion?  Do we notice when museums, libraries, schools, and universities are pressured into censoring artistic expression or speech that offends some Christians or Jews?

And do we chose to ignore the numerous offensive remarks or actions about Islam in American mainstream discourse that are met with civil disagreement, if not ignored completely? Muslims again, like people of other faith, also forgive and turn the other cheek.

Most recently in Oklahoma the Muslim community has experienced more offensive remarks and actions from some of our fellow citizens and politicians than any cartoon or photo exhibit can reflect.  Members of our legislature have labeled Muslims as being inherently violent, and abusive towards women (another issue not exclusive to people of a certain religion). The Oklahoma Muslim community also dealt with a man who sent DVDs to Islamic Centers depicting images of pork being smeared over Islamic texts, and visuals of explosions accompanied with a threat.  Despite knowing the location of our legislatures, and the address of the film-maker, Muslims did not rally in the streets in anger, or send threatening messages to those who slandered and defamed their religion.  Instead they prayed for those individuals, and called on the police department, and the courts to administer justice.

Asking for law enforcement, or the judicial system to protect our rights, is the American way to combat slander, defamation, and harassment- not to be mistaken for a demand of "preferred status" that many Anti-Muslim hate groups claim.

The vast majority of Muslims are not the oversensitive, ticking-time bomb, drama queens that the media portrays us to be.  And for those who claim the faith that are, they have good company in the other faiths as well. The vast majority of Muslims recognize that violent and hateful responses to the artwork of a cartoonist, or the publicity stunt of a pastor is the greatest offense.  Our faith does not condone nor promote the intolerant and unreasonable reactions that are over-represented in our media.

So the next time we laugh at, or pity those crazy Muslims, and their oversensitive sensitivities, please remember this is not a "Muslim Problem", and that Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths are just as sensitive when it comes to their religion and those who intentionally and insightfully seek to offend those beliefs. It does not make one right, nor make the other wrong, but it may make us all seem a bit more sane.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lessons Learned- The Oklahoma City Bombing & The Political Attacks on Islam

Every year on April 19th, Oklahomans reflect on the lessons learned from the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.  The annual remembrance ceremony held at 9:02am—the same time Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that claimed 168 lives—serves as a reminder of the impact violence had on this state, and our nation.

The lessons learned and memorialized at the Oklahoma City National Museum include this nation’s ability to come together despite the efforts of terrorists to divide us. The families of the victims, survivors, rescuers, and volunteers from across the world came together with unity and compassion to defeat the hatred embodied by that senseless act of violence. 

How have we honored this lesson as a State?

In contrast to the message of unity that our City’s national memorial symbolizes, our state's elected officials have promoted division by marginalizing nearly 30,000 Oklahomans based on their religious beliefs. In November 2010 former State Representative Rex Duncan warned people of the creeping threat of Islamic Law by saying repeatedly that Islam is a “cancer”.  State Senator Anthony Sykes joined the chorus by proclaiming that the spread of Islam in Oklahoma is a “scary concept”.  State Representative Lewis Moore also referred to the growth of Islam as an “onslaught”, and most recently Representative Sally Kern demonized Muslims in an effort to pass her own Anti-Islam bill (however to her credit she has acknowledged that “homosexuality is the biggest threat our nation has…even more so than Islam”).

Oklahoma's politicians have ignored the lesson of unity learned on April 19, in order to promote division and to rally their constituents around fear and bigotry. 

It is the responsibility of Oklahomans to honor the memory and sacrifice of those who were killed on the morning of April 19, 1995 by remembering the lessons learned every day- not only once a year. Those who mislabel the religion of nearly 30,000 Oklahomans and 7 million Americans as violent, should be reminded that the impact of violence on that day was overcome by unity, not division.  That the hate expressed on that day was defeated by education, not political opportunism. And, that the gloom and despair apparent on that day were overwhelmed by hope and healing, not intolerance.

We can honor the lives of all those who were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing by reflecting upon the lessons learned as we move forward. Violence is not promoted, or tolerated by any specific religion. However the compassion, hope and healing required to defeat such violence is found in all religions, and all Oklahomans.