guardian.com, 30-12-2017, Ed Pilkington in New York
Anti-sharia laws proliferate as
Trump strikes hostile tone toward Muslims
bills have been introduced in 18 state legislatures this year to ban the
practice of Islamic law – critics say the aim is to spread fear about
Anti-sharia legislation is spreading in state
legislatures across the US, as Donald Trump’s hostile stance towards
Muslims appears to be emboldening rightwing Islamaphobes.
there were 23 new bills introduced in 18 states attempting to prohibit
the practice of Islamic religious law, or sharia, in US courts. The rash
of new bills brings the total number of such legislative efforts since
2010 to 217 in 43 states, according to the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley
which monitors the anti-sharia movement.
Legal experts point out
that the bills are superfluous, as the US constitution is the supreme
law of the land and any foreign laws are subservient to it. Sharia
itself is less a set of laws than religious guidelines, one of which
requires Muslims to be law-abiding according to the rules of whichever
country they find themselves.
But Elsadig Elsheikh, director of
the global justice program at the Haas Institute that carried out the
research, said the purpose of the bills was to spread fear about Muslims
living in America and to portray them as untrustworthy and out of step
with American values. “Even if these bills do not become law they help
to subject Muslims to surveillance and other forms of exclusion and
discrimination,” he said.
Of the 23 bills introduced to state
legislatures this year, only two became law – in Arkansas and Texas.
Four new states joined the growing list of legislatures where
anti-sharia legislation has been attempted: Colorado, Connecticut, North
Dakota and Wisconsin.
All but one of the bills were introduced by
Republicans. The exception was in Idaho where a committee with an
unknown party affiliation was behind the move.
Heidi Beirich, an
expert on anti-Muslim hate groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center,
sees the rash of state bills as signs that the provocative language
coming out of Trump’s circle is having an impact. “At the state level,
the number one push for anti-Muslim activists is anti-sharia bills. It’s
a recurrent effort.”
Trump himself called for all Muslims to be
barred from entering the US when he was a presidential candidate, a
sentiment that he has only barely tempered in his drive for a travel ban
on several majority-Muslim countries. Several of the individuals he
chose as key advisers also have a controversial track record.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, once
wrote a film script that warned of the country turning into the “Islamic
States of America”. The short-lived national security adviser Michael
Flynn called Islamism a “vicious cancer” inside all Muslims that has to
be “excised”, while former White House aide Sebastian Gorka was once
fired by the FBI as a counter-terrorism lecturer for his Islamophobic
Charles Turner, who is researching a doctoral thesis on
anti-Muslim legislation at the University of Utah, said that the
plethora of bills had been “enabled by Trump and his close team. This is
an expression of rightwing Republicanism that chimes with their populist
The anti-sharia movement became a force in the US after
2010 in the wake of the furor over the plan to open a Muslim community
center in downtown Manhattan. Islamophobes led by Pamela Geller dubbed
it the “Ground Zero mosque” and said it was a “beachhead for Islamic
Further fuel was poured on the anti-sharia fire by
the Birther movement – with Trump as one of its most prominent advocates
– that promulgated the conspiracy theory that President Obama was a
Since 2010 a concerted network has been created pushing
anti-sharia bills in state legislatures. An anti-Muslim lawyer, David
Yerushalmi, gave a boost to the efforts by composing draft legislation
called the American Laws for American Courts, Alac, that has provided
the template for at least 140 of the bills that have been introduced.
Most of the recent bills are careful not to refer overtly to sharia
or Islam, as to do so would be to expose the legislation to the scrutiny
of federal courts on grounds of religious discrimination. Instead, they
talk of “foreign laws” being banned in US jurisdictions.
less, they have the potential to wreak damage. Nikiya Natale, legal
director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said that anti-Muslim sentiment was growing
in Texas which this year passed its third anti-sharia law.
laws further marginalize and ostracize the Muslim community. Republicans
are playing to their base, particularly in smaller rural white towns,
and Trump has made Islamophobia normal, mainstream.”
ongoing push for legislation, observers of the trend see some cause for
optimism. The fact that only two of the bills passed out of 23 this year
is evidence in itself that the anti-sharia movement is fighting an
Many of the most virulent Islamophobes around
Trump – notably Bannon, Flynn and Gorka – have all been forced out of
the White House. “There’s something heartening coming out of all this,”
Given Trump’s controversial leadership, some
monitors had expected to see an even greater surge in the number of
bills in 2017 which increased from 14 last year but did not reach the
2011 peak in the wake of the Manhattan controversy of 56 pieces of
legislation, according to the Haas Institute.
“Given the support
coming from the highest office in the land, we expected to see an even
greater increase in anti-sharia legislation at state level,” Elsheikh
said. He added that a combination of legal challenges and popular
protest not least by Muslims themselves was dampening the impact of the
“There has been a healthy mobilization of
the Muslim community who are becoming more engaged and less apologetic,
especially second-generation Muslims. They are more determined to demand
their rights,” he said.
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