One of the biggest immigration-related stories of the year, one that I regret not having squeezed into my top-five list, also involved culture, religion, and a substantial dose of fear.
Nearly ten years after the World Trade Center attacks, a nationwide rise in anti-Muslim sentiment manifested itself everywhere from Ground Zero in New York City to Temecula, and many points in between. Citizens mounted protests against planned mosques from coast to coast, arsonists set fire to a mosque construction site in Tennessee, a Florida preacher threatened to burn copies of the Quran, and the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma's electorate voted to ban Sharia law from the courts, even if Islamic law had never been cited in one of the state's courtrooms.
The experience has left many Muslim Americans reeling. In the recent Bloggingheads exchange above, Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy describes the feeling she got seeing some of the news reports: "It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a monster in place of yourself."
Photo by Il Primo Uomo/Flickr (Creative Commons)
A temporary restraining order will continue in effect until the end of this month blocking a controversial new Oklahoma law that, if implemented, would amend the state's constitution to ban the use of Islamic Sharia law in the state's courts. United Press International reported that in a hearing today, a federal judge in Oklahoma City extended an order blocking implementation of what was known on the ballot as State Question 755, approved by voters in the Nov. 2 election.
The ballot initiative was approved by an overwhelming majority - 70 percent - even though there is no known instance of Islamic law ever being cited in Oklahoma courts.
Two days after the ballot measure was approved, the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed suit to stop its implementation on constitutional grounds. Today the restraining order was extended until Nov. 29, when a ruling is expected on whether the law violates the U.S. constitution.
Photo by Il Primo Uomo/Flickr (Creative Commons)
In The Washington Post's On Faith column today, political science professor Muqtedar Khan wrote:
Critics of Shariah in Oklahoma argue that they also oppose the Shariah law because it is against freedom of religion. In this age, when ignorance and bigotry are being celebrated in America, I am sure that most people in Oklahoma must have missed the irony in the situation.
The key sentence in the State question 755 is: It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Shariah Law. The proposition also bans international law. To consider how ignorant both the authors and the voters of the proposition are, please take a look at Article Six, Section I, Clause II of the US constitution. It is called the supremacy clause.
According to this clause, international treaties to which the U.S. government is a signatory become "the supreme law of the land". Treaties, along with custom and UN declarations are the main sources of international law (the proposition 755 actually mentions it). Thus by rejecting international law the proposition designed to institutionalize Islamophobia in Oklahoma, has effectually said "thanks, but no thanks" to the U.S. Constitution.
The AtlanticWire has a roundup of stories on Oklahoma's State Question 755, an until-recently obscure ballot initiative in the Sooner State that, if approved by voters, would prohibit the state's courts from using international law or Islamic Sharia law when making rulings.
I wrote about this curious bit of proposed legislation the other day. As unusual and geographically removed as it seems, State Question 755 is relevant beyond Oklahoma in the same way that Arizona's SB 1070 - and Oklahoma's similar HB 1804, which preceded it in 2007 - have been politically relevant beyond both states.
The inspiration for the measure, according to its backers, comes from a New Jersey case. From CNN:
The question might seem a befuddling one for a ballot in the heartland, but it stems from a New Jersey legal case in which a Muslim woman went to a family court asking for a restraining order against her spouse claiming he had raped her repeatedly. The judge ruled against her, saying that her husband was abiding by his Muslim beliefs regarding spousal duties. The decision was later overruled by an appellate court, but the case sparked a firestorm.
Photo by Chriszwolle/Flickr (Creative Commons)
A photo of an Oklahoma state highway map, February 2010
The Atlantic's politics editor Marc Ambinder wrote yesterday about an as-of-yet obscure "anti-Sharia law" initiative that has made it onto the Oklahoma state ballot, and how if it performs well with voters, we might see a series of similar initiatives used as a cultural wedge issue in other states. From the post:
Will anti-Sharia law initiatives be in future election cycles what anti-gay marriage initiatives were before? That is, a cultural wedge issue the GOP uses to ensure that hard-core conservatives enthusiastically flock to the polls?
If so, then Oklahoma is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for this type of initiative. One of 11 ballot initiatives in the state this November, State Question 755, better known as the "Save Our State" constitutional amendment, would prevent courts from using international or Sharia law. The question made it to the ballot by passing the state Senate 41-2 and the House 82-10. In addition to potentially rallying the conservative base to the polls, the initiative, which bans something that is nearly impossible statutorily, is worth watching because the GOP may employ it in swing states two years down the line.