Thursday, September 15, 2011

We Should Have No Fear of Islamic Law in America

More than 12 states in America are considering outlawing aspects of Shariah law. Some would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life: a bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly equates Shariah with a set of rules that promote “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.” Newt Gingrich has said that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” Many people feel that such measures are needed to protect the country against homegrown terrorism and safeguard its Judeo-Christian values.

I can certainly understand these feelings –but they are wrong. The fear of Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and one of its fastest-growing religious minorities.

The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the Inquisition, in 19th-century Europe, and the associated belief that Jewish religious laws were seditious. During that era, Christianity was seen as either a universally valid basis of the state or a faith that harmoniously coexisted with the secular law of the land. Conversely, Judaism was seen as a competing legal system — making Jews at best an inassimilable minority, at worst a fifth column.

Most Americans today would be appalled if Muslims suffered from legally sanctioned discrimination as Jews once did in Europe. Still, there many Americans that view Muslims in this country as disloyal. A recent Gallup poll found that only 56 percent of Protestants think that Muslims are loyal Americans.

This suspicion and mistrust is no doubt fueled by the notion that American Muslims are akin to certain extreme Muslim groups in the Middle East and in Europe. But American Muslims are a different story. They are natural candidates for assimilation. They are demographically the youngest religious group in America, and most of their parents don’t even come from the Middle East (the majority have roots in Southeast Asia).

Anti-Shariah legislation fosters a hostile environment that will stymie the growth of America’s tolerant strand of Islam. The continuation of America’s pluralistic religious tradition depends on the ability to distinguish between punishing groups that support terror and blaming terrorist activities on a faith that represents roughly a quarter of the world’s population.

O.K., having said all that there are still a few points which should be seriously considered before even thinking about allowing Shariah law to have any recognized legitimacy in America. First, No religious law, including Canon Law, Halakha, or any other set of laws perpetuated by religious beliefs, can in anyway negate or even mitigate existing state and federal laws –if it is illegal to do something under existing law is is still illegal and religious law can not change that. Second, no religious law can pronounce or execute punishment or crime. Those sections of Shariah Law which call for death or mutilation can have no legal weight, just as Christian law which calls for “an eye for an eye” has no direct weight under our legal system and can not be used as a defense against prosecution.

The third point I need to make is that you should not understand my statements to imply that I in any way whatsoever accept, excuse or condone the intolerance exhibited by many extremist and radical Muslims. In my opinion the non radical Muslims have done a piss poor job controlling, influencing or even condemning such radicals. The impression that Islam is a bloody and violent religion made be untrue, but you would not know it in today's world because the majority of Muslims, who do not share the same violent beliefs, have miserably failed to make their views heard. If the day comes when there is a religious war between Muslims and non-Muslims, that failure will bear the lions share of the blame. But all that has nothing to do with my stand on the question of the right of people to worship and live in accordance with their beliefs as long as it does not intrude on the rights of other people who choose to believe differently.

To sum all this up, I believe that we Americans are very proud of our right to worship (or not) as we choose, without fear of discrimination or interference. At the same time, we are proud of our belief in the separation of church and state. We have proved these things are not mutually exclusive. We have enjoyed a culture which respects our right to live as we choose so long as it does not intrude on the rights of others to do the same thing. Shariah law not only should, but must be tolerated as long as it conforms to the conditions imposed by that separation. –And, like Canon and Halakha laws, it is never applied in connection with anyone who does not voluntarily believe in it and chooses to be influenced by it.

Live Long and Prosper...

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