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Thursday, 25 February 2010 05:20

Logo-gate and the Latest Explosion of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Can Be Traced to -- You Guessed It -- Fear and Ignorance

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by Meg White

The latest Obama-as-Muslim conspiracy theory may strike you as laughable. I certainly stifled a giggle when I saw this on Think Progress today:

Frank Gaffney, a protégé of Richard Perle and an influential figure in right wing national security circles, has firmly entered the world of right wing tin-foil hat paranoia.

Media Matters documents the development of a new right wing conspiracy theory, claiming that the Obama administration manipulated the redesign of the Missile Defense Agency to look like his campaign logo. This theory then evolved to claims that the new logo incorporates the Islamic crescent as well.

Gaffney said the logo change represented just one of the many "acts of submission to Shariah by President Obama and his team." If you're curious to see the supposed visual similarities of the logos, I highly recommend the silly FOX report on "logo-gate":

Now, we've heard this "Obama is made out of muslin" theory before. It's very much not true, as you can see here. Nor is there much truth the the logo-gate story. The agency has been using the new logo since before the 2008 election campaign, so any similarity to Obama's campaign logo is imagined.

But untrue does not equal unpopular, particularly on the Internet. It took a very quick search to find that, alongside the many people who believe President Obama is a closet Muslim, there are people who believe that there is a concerted effort to convert our American system of justice to Shariah law.

The blog "Creeping Sharia" defines its concern:

“Creeping Sharia” is a phenomenon scourge occurring across the free world. We’ll define it as “the slow, deliberate, and methodical advance of Islamic law (sharia) in non-Muslim countries” (literal definitions below). Another frequently used term is ’stealth jihad’.

The blogger goes on to say that after a whopping 25 months of blogging, he's determined the following:

"...the 'creep' of sharia is not slow at all. Rather, it is advancing at a steady, ever rapid, pace. The goal set out by the Muslim Brotherhood however suggests the U.S. will not be Islamicized over night but over decades. Since 9/11 alone there have been significant increases in the Muslim population, mosques and masjids, and infiltration into civil organizations, including Congress."

So the presence of two -- count 'em -- two Muslims in the entire modern history of the U.S. Congress, means that Shariah is nearly the law of the land. OK, dude. Enjoy your 26th month of blogging. Moving on...

The author at Citizen(s) Against Sharia seems to be creating his or her own dictionary for how we should feel about the foreign legal system (emphasis mine):

Sharia, or Islamic Law, is a fascist system of government that conflicts with the Constitution of the United States, and with basic principles of freedom and individual rights that are commonly held in the West.

The accusation that the U.S. is turning to Shariah an interesting one, considering our country probably would not have looked the same if it weren't for Islamic law. In fact, you could argue that we might not even have "law" if it weren't for Islam. And, contrary to the citizen against Shariah, basic tenets of our Constitution are heavily based on Shariah ideas.

A scholarly article appearing in the Cardozo Law Review in 2006 titled "Interpreting the Qur'an and the Constitution: Similarities in the Use of Text, Tradition, and Reason in Islamic and American Jurisprudence" sites numerous similarities between the two texts, from the basic understandings of literalism and originalism to more fundamental messages of "underlying purpose and spirit."

Other scholars argue that what appear to be uniquely American ideals have their root in Shariah and/or Islamic law, from the establishment of a federal government, freedom of religion, and the abolishing of guilt by association, to the right to privacy, common defense and the notion of peacemaking. Historians also give credit to Islamic law for the first lawsuits, medical peer reviews, prohibitions on drug use and property laws.

So if Islamic and Shariah law have been such an important part of our intellectual past, where did all this fear come from? Surely 9/11 had an effect, and the racial fears precipitated by the first black president in U.S. history have their place. But there's something deeper going on here.

In a 2008 New York Times article, journalist Noah Feldman provided some perspective that might help us understand the opposition to Shariah in the West (emphasis mine):

In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation...

It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.

In other words, Western revisionism allows for us to teach our kids that Islamic mathematicians and scientists made significant contributions to world knowledge (for now at least), but cultural achievements are off-limits, else we admit our own backwardness.

Another unspoken element to this anti-Muslim rhetoric is the fact that most conservatives actually favor some of the most backward elements of Shariah law, such as prohibitions against homosexuality and beliefs about the true place of women in society.

Both the Qur'an and Sharia law have indeed been twisted in some pretty horrifying ways, especially when it concerns the rights of women and other minorities. But so have the Bible and our Constitution. That's what happens when you create a system that can be interpreted by mere mortals, whose ideals and political considerations are quite temperamental.

I guess the same can be said for agency logos. But that doesn't mean some nut job isn't going to get all up in arms about it.