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By Deron Lee, Columbia Journalism Review, 6/7/13
FAIRWAY, KS -- For more than three years, lawmakers in Kansas, Missouri, and a host of other states have been pushing bills to prohibit the use of Islamic law--commonly referred to as Sharia--in US courts. There are a lot of serious questions one might ask about this anti-Sharia campaign, but among journalists, the bills have most often provoked incredulous, derisive, and sardonic responses: Is this really happening?
When the Kansas legislature sent anti-Sharia legislation to Gov. Sam Brownback's desk last year, Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah made the tongue-in-cheek argument that Brownback "better sign" the bill in order to burnish his "ultra-conservative" credentials and "to show those foreigners they can't control the courts of Kansas. Just like they've been doing since, well, never." When Brownback did in fact sign it, editors at the Winfield Daily Courier attributed the bill's passage to a "sophomoric, circus-like atmosphere" prevailing at the state Capitol.
When strikingly similar legislation surfaced in Missouri last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board dismissed it as "silly." When a new version came up this year, the editors placed it on a list of recommended vetoes for Gov. Jay Nixon, but only in a subheading at the bottom among other "silly stuff" perpetrated by the legislature.
These amused and amusing reactions are understandable given the absurdity of the notion that "creeping Sharia,"--the alarmist term sometimes used by advocates of these bills--is poised to overwhelm the Midwest. But they understate the seriousness and persistence of the movement behind such legislation, and its potential effects on American Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
"I don't think there is sufficient awareness of the consequences of these bans," Amos Toh, a fellow at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, told me in an interview. Toh coauthored a report released last month, a joint effort between the Brennan Center and the Democratic-affiliated Center for American Progress, detailing "legal uncertainties and practical problems" presented by these bills, which have been enacted in six states so far.
Another concern, of course, is the simple fact of religious hostility and its psychological effect on Muslims here. Whether or not the word "Sharia" appears in these bills, they "send a discriminatory message," the Brennan Center's Toh said. "A lot of the statements made by proponents have been specifically targeted to Muslims and to the application of Sharia. I do think there is definitely an anti-Muslim animus driving these measures."
The derisive tone of coverage of the bills, especially on the opinion pages, suggests that many media members agree--and they don't have much sympathy for the sponsors' motives. (Read the full article)