Shari'ah, Fearing the Unknown

In news story after news story, the fear of Islam — and specifically of “creeping” Shari’ah law —  is confirmed in headlines.  From the Oklahoma law passed during midterm elections that banned Shari’ah (and was later blocked by a state judge) to the protest of mosques (or mosque-like buildings!) under construction around the country, journalists have made clear that some Americans are afraid of the growth, practice and presence of one particular religious group.

While the fear may exist, few are talking about where it comes from and whether it is founded or not; this lack of discussion about what Shari’ah really is has allowed many to project their worst fears into the void of factual information.  Confirming the presence of such fear in our society without addressing where it comes from, as our headlines and news stories often do, works only to assure many in their shared prejudice.

In a panel discussion last night about the biggest reported and unreported stories of the midterm elections, Sarah Posner, journalist and writer at Religion Dispatches, noted that few journalists are debunking common fear of Islam and Shari’ah because few journalists know anything about it.  As another panelist Gary Younge noted, xenophobic politics continue to sway elections and policy.

If Islam has become the new substitute for communism (see Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim:  America, The Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, 2004)  in our antiquated Cold War conception of the world paradigm — “it’s us against them and we’re gonna win ’cause we’re the greatest country in the world” — it’s high time journalists buckle down and know what this Islam and Shari’ah thing is really about.

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