Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, November 2017
The seven-million-strong American Muslim community was alarmed at an anti-Islam question included in the Republican Party survey titled as “Listening to America.”
The question No. 27 of the 32 question survey asks: “Are you concerned by the potential spread of Sharia Law?”
It may be pointed out that the term ‘Sharia’ refers to Islamic religious teachings, comparable to Catholic cannon law and Jewish Halacha.
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization, Saturday (Nov 18) sent a letter to Republican Party leaders requesting a meeting and the immediate removal of the question.
In the letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in part:
“Just as it would be widely condemned as extremely inappropriate and indecent for the RNC to ask Americans if they are concerned about the potential spread of Catholic cannon law and Jewish Halacha, posing questions about the religious teachings practiced by American Muslims should be likewise condemned by the Republican Party.
“This GOP survey question about religious principles of American Muslims is comparable to the darker chapters of our nation’s history when Catholic and Jewish Americans were vilified and their loyalty to our nation was questioned.
“The Republican Party should not allow its resources to be hijacked by those who would seek to use its stature in American society to fuel the rise of un-American and anti-Muslim bigotry in our country. American Muslims deserve the same opportunities as all Americans – to build better futures for our families and children. However, just this week, the FBI released its hate crimes report for 2016, which shows American Muslims and Jews were the two most common targets of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the U.S.
“According to the report, there were increases in reported hate crimes across the board compared to 2015. Anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by nearly 20 percent, anti-white by 17 percent, anti-Latino by 15 percent, and anti-Jewish by 3 percent.”
The GOP survey question about Sharia echo’s a campaign of anti-Islam legislations in several states to ban the non-existent Sharia law.
Researchers and critics fear that right-wing legislators are increasing anti-Muslim sentiment as Islamic law, known as "Sharia", was targeted by some 194 bills between 2010 and 2016, according to a report released in September last by the University of California, Berkeley's Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
Of that total, 18 bills were signed into law in 12 different states.
"The anti-Sharia law movement, by way introducing and enacting anti-Sharia law bills across the United States, seeks to legalise the othering of Muslims, as well as to perpetuate a fear of Sharia, Islam and ultimately Muslims," said Basima Sisemore, a researcher and an author of Legalising Othering: The United States of Islamophobia.
Sisemore argued that these bills have a negative effect on Muslims by stoking fear and bigotry at a time when US President Donald Trump is targeting the religious minority.
"The consequences of introducing or enacting anti-Muslim laws extend beyond the conspicuous intent to subvert Muslim Americans' citizenship and civil liberties, as has been demonstrated by the rise of anti-Sharia rallies that swept across the US in June of this year," she told Al Jazeera.
Tellingly, in June last, fewer than six months into Trump's presidency, rising Islamophic sentiment exploded and anti-Sharia rallies were held in some 28 cities across the country.
The marches were called by ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) watchdog describes as the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in the US.
Claiming to have more than 500,000 members, ACT for America supports Trump. Its members have campaigned for strict legislation that targets Muslims and refugees in recent years.
Those rallies drew the participation of white supremacists, armed militia groups and neo-Nazis. Yet, participants of the anti-Sharia marches were massively outnumbered by counter-protesters, among them anti-racists and anti-fascists who clashed with the anti-Muslim demonstrators.
Although the anti-Sharia movement was born in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, critics say Trump has effectively energized it.
Problematically worded questions
Question about Sharia is one of the many problematically worded questions in the GOP survey:
Q. 9 Do you think legal immigration should be reduced until unemployment drops?
Q. 15 Do you think universities today indoctrinate rather than teach students?
Q. 17 Do you trust the media?
Q. 21 Do you hold more socially conservative views?
Q. 22 Do you feel that you cannot publicly admit that you support Trump?
Q. 24 Do you believe that the Second Amendment is unfairly targeted as the reason for increased gun violence?
Q. 25 Do you want to see more done to stop radical Islamic terrorists from coming to our shores?
Q. 26 Do you support President Trump’s temporary restriction on immigration from terrorism-compromised countries?
Q. 29 Has illegal immigration had a negative impact on your community?
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