The threat of Sharia law is one of the great Shibboleth’s of the Republican narrative. They say it’s time for Americans to stop kidding themselves; time to wake up to the threat of Islamic law governing our lives and taking away our liberties. What they don’t tell you is how hard they themselves are working to take away those same liberties. They even want to do it for the same god.
What we need is less fear and more facts. So let’s take a look at some.
How big is Sharia law in the world? To hear Republicans tell of it, all Islam is governed by Sharia law. But this is not, as is the case with most black/white declarations, true. The Council on Foreign Relations lists several types of government in Islamic nations:
- Dual Legal System: “Many majority Muslim countries have a dual system in which the government is secular but Muslims can choose to bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship. Examples can be seen in Nigeria and Kenya, which have sharia courts that rule on family law for Muslims. A variation exists in Tanzania, where civil courts apply sharia or secular law according to the religious backgrounds of the defendants. Several countries, including Lebanon and Indonesia, have mixed jurisdiction courts based on residual colonial legal systems and supplemented with sharia.”
- Government under God: “Examples include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, where the governments derive their legitimacy from Islam. In Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq, among others, it is also forbidden to enact legislation that is antithetical to Islam. Saudi Arabia employs one of the strictest interpretations of sharia.”
- Completely Secular: “Muslim countries where the government is declared to be secular in the constitution include Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Chad, Somalia, and Senegal. Islamist parties run for office occasionally in these countries and sharia often influences local customs.”
CFR notes that “Secular Muslim countries are a minority, however, and the popularity of Islamist political parties are narrowing the gap between religion and state.” The same might be said of the United States, in which the First Amendment has been under sustained attack for years.
In fact, if you look at the type of governments listed above, you can see many similarities with the type of America our own religious conservatives wish to impose. Notice that in some countries, it is forbidden “to enact legislation that is antithetical to Islam.” Isn’t this what some Christians are demanding here? Isn’t that at the heart of opposition to abortion rights, that it is antithetical to Christianity? And isn’t opposition to same-sex marriage the same, and opposition to evolution and science? Isn’t that what is driving opposition to Islam and Sharia law?
It is past time, as the Midterm Elections approach, that American voters look at exactly what sort of country the Tea Partiers, conservative Republicans and the Religious Right, want to give us. If you think it is in any great respect different from a country governed by Sharia law, you are wrong.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Public display of Christian religious symbols in public buildings
- Defying the Constitution Article 6 Section 3 on religious tests
- Arguing that church-state separation is not in the Constitution
- Promotion of Christian fundamentalist Christianity in public schools and government
- Promotion of Christian prayer in public school
- Legislate the Ten Commandments
- Belief that the Ten Commandments trump the Constitution
- Direct American foreign policy according to the Bible
- Deny First Amendment protections to Islam
- Force military personnel to attend specifically Christian functions on-base
- Diminution of the rights of women
- Some forms of slavery can be legal on a Biblical basis
- The view that atheists are not really citizens
- No Constitutional rights for the LGBT community
- Discrimination is permitted on the basis of the Bible
- Putting an end to contraception
- Putting an end to abortion even in cases of rape/incest
- Putting an end to sex education
- The cessation of teaching evolution in public schools
Think about what kind of world these people want to give us. Sure, there are those who want smaller government or don’t like taxes or have more mundane concerns, but think about some of the candidates they are putting forward and whom they rammed through the primaries to national attention. How many of us start our day by thinking, “Gosh, I need some protection from witchcraft”?
If you think the days of book burnings and accusations of witchcraft and the like are far behind us, think about the experiences of Paul Ingram, who was once the Chairman of the Republican Party in Olympia, Washington as well as chief civil deputy in the local sheriff’s department. This was a well-connected, respected guy, not the sort you’d imagine would come to grief because of superstition. But in the New Republican America his fate would be the fate of many. When you see what happened to him, think about what would happen to you, who are not party chairmen and deputies; who are “the Other.”
Ingram’s ordeal is chronicled in Remembering Satan (1994). One of his daughters, attending a fundamentalist religious retreat, accused him of sexually abusing her, torturing her, getting her pregnant, and even making her sexually available to other sheriff’s deputies – and the clincher, using her in Satanic rites – and the old charge of dismembering and eating babies even came up. Ingram, of course, did what any of us would do. He denied it.
Did his church come rushing to this stalwart’s aid? No. Sex offenders, after all, often repress memories of their crimes. Even his minister said so. His congregation was eager to gobble up the salacious gossip that only served to reinforce their own fears and worldview. And eager to cooperate, Ingram saw a psychologist who managed to dredge up memories of his alleged crimes. His pastor told him that God “would permit only genuine memories to surface in his reveries.
Ingram thought perhaps a demon was responsible and the church grapevine made known all he was confessing. Then his wife and other children began remembering too. “Other prominent citizens were accused of participating in the orgiastic rites.” People started saying, “this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
After all, they tell us, Satan is real, demons are real, and there is no escaping his clutches. As a polytheist, I can tell you that I have been told that I worship Satan. I say, I can’t worship what I don’t believe exists, only to be told that by denying Satan I was serving him. You can’t win. It’s a surreal moment when you’re confronted by this medieval reasoning, if it can be called that. But I assure you, it’s very real. These people want to believe. They need to believe.
But eventually, Berkeley’s Richard Ofshe proved that memories could be injected – false memories – requiring no pressure and no intimidation. Suggestion was enough. But Ingram resisted the idea that none of these horrible things had ever happened. By now, they were very real to him. But of course, physical evidence did not line up with the testimony. His daughter lacked the scars she insisted she had and he was never charged with Satanic abuse.
But good Republican and faithful Christian Ingram never even read Ofshe’s report. Why? His pastor told him not to. His pastor told him that it would only confuse him. The poor man pled guilty to six counts of rape and was sent to prison, believing himself guilty and encouraged in his guilt by his pastor and his church – and significantly – by his religion.
In time, Ingram changed his mind about all that happened. He tried to withdraw his guilty plea. He said his memories had been coerced, as indeed they had. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and released in 2003.
As Carl Sagan says in his book The Demon-Haunted World (1996), “If it was the sixteenth century instead of the twentieth, perhaps the whole family would have been burned at the stake – along with a good fraction of the leading citizens of Olympia, Washington.”
Is this the kind of world we want returned to us? Do the American voters really want to return to fear of Satan and demons so extreme that we will destroy ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, even complete strangers, in a frenzy of superstition? Do we really want to see bonfires of books that are found antithetical to Christianity, to see our lives legislated according to a Bronze Age law code, to turn our backs on science and the humanizing ideals of the Enlightenment – liberty and human rights – to dwell in fearful darkness?
Note: This article uses material from Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (1996).