Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
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Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:34:52 AM EST
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped to fan fears about a Muslim arbitration panel serving the region's Muslim community. She and her allies have framed their stance as a response to the so-called threat of Muslim law, called Sharia, to America's constitutional order. The events in this case provide an example of how anti-Muslim sentiment arises in a community and comes to shape the political landscape.
Mayor Van Duyne first became involved with the Sharia issue following the appearance of a right-wing news article about the Islamic Tribunal of Dallas, an organization the mayor apparently took an interest in because one of its arbitrators lived in her own city of Irving. The article, appearing on January 28 at and authored by anti-Muslim activist Pam Geller, presented a slippery-slope argument. " 'Voluntary' Sharia Tribunal in Texas: This is How it Starts" its headline ran, with scare quotes around the word voluntary.  The article suggested that the tribunal was deviously hiding its true purpose of "creating a parallel legal system" in conflict with U.S. law.

It's hard to figure what exactly prompted the Geller article since the tribunal was similar in nature to arbitration panels of other religions, allowed under the First Amendment, and had conducted itself without controversy for several years. Established as a non-profit in 2012, it dealt with community-related issues having to do with divorce, contracts, and religious affairs.  The tribunal's website made clear that its proceedings addressed the needs of Muslims who wished to remain within the bounds of Islamic custom and were voluntary and non-binding. The website noted three times for emphasis that its rulings honored local, state, and federal law.

Nonetheless, in her first public statement on the issue, made on Facebook on February 6, Mayor Van Duyne echoed Pamela Geller's alarmist assumptions. She stated that she or the city of Irving had never "condoned, approved, or enacted the implementation of a  Sharia Court in our city," implying that something inappropriate or illegal might have occurred. A few days later on the Glen Beck Program, Van Duyne made specific claims. She stated that the tribunal was a "court" in its own right rather than an arbitration panel as indicated on its web page and that it was "bypassing American courts."

Van Duyne's statements, unfortunately, do little to clarify the issues. "Bypassing American courts," far from being something insidious, is what religious arbitration panels, long sanctioned under U.S. law, have always done. Federal and state courts have little interest in becoming enmeshed in the religious matters arbitrated by such panels (of course, if they are asked to deal with complaints by religious plaintiffs seeking redress in a secular forum, the courts do not and cannot apply religious law if it is inconsistent with state and federal law). As for the distinction between "court" and "tribunal," the semantics are hardly as clear-cut as Van Duyne suggests. Arbitration tribunals are commonly viewed as equivalent to religious "courts" applying religious law. In Dallas, for example, a Catholic "court" run by the Diocese of Dallas and a beth din, or rabbinical "court," both operate freely, virtually identical in function to the Muslim tribunal (which could also call itself a "court" if it wanted) a few miles away.

If Van Duyne's response to the Muslim case in Dallas is ill-informed, it is not isolated or unusual. Van Duyne knows she can count on ample support from others in her area hostile to Islam. Most notably, she has reinforcement from the Texas legislature, dominated by conservative Republicans, which is now considering a restrictive bill addressing the same issues about courts and law.

The bill in question, sometimes referred to as American Laws for American Courts (H.B. 562), would ban the use in U.S. courts of foreign laws that violate "fundamental" rights guaranteed by the U.S or Texan constitution.  The bill is similar to bills attempted recently in other states targeting Sharia by name but found unconstitutional. The present legislation has been scrubbed clean of all such sectarian references (the object of concern is now "foreign" law), although the bill's sponsors have made little effort to hide their anti-Muslim leanings. Critics of the bill consider it not just inflammatory but unnecessary, since there are no known examples of foreign laws violating fundamental rights, and there are ample protections against such occurrences (e.g., Article  VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution). Indeed, legal experts have pointed out that there are no legal pathways whereby foreign law can overrule U.S. law.

To solidify her position, Van Duyne has been actively ginning up support for H.B. 562. On March 19, at an open meeting of the Irving City Council, she  persuaded a majority of its members to join her in publicly endorsing the legislation. Many members of the Muslim community attending the meeting showed obvious dismay at the outcome. Van Duyne claims, in response, that her support for the bill has nothing to do with Islamophobia. Why in the world, she argues, would anyone oppose anything that supports following the Constitution?

But for American Muslims, there are reasons enough. The "American Laws for American Courts" brand of legislation has long been a key instrument of the anti-Muslim movement in the United States. It is based on a template devised by an organization called the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a neo-conservative group that takes a militant stand against world Islam (it calls itself "Special Forces in the War of Ideas"). CSP's current general council David Yerushalmi, a right-wing Israeli who helped launch the anti-Sharia movement in  2006, believes that Islam is "inherently seditious" and that Sharia is a "criminal conspiracy" against the U.S. government.

Bills modeled on CSP's American Laws for American Courts are controversial not simply as instruments of fear mongering. If passed, they could also cause measurable harm to the U.S. legal system because they sow confusion and raise the possibility of wasteful litigation. The American Bar Association asserts that the language in such bills is likely to "have an unanticipated and widespread negative impact on business" both in individual states and in foreign commerce. Moreover, many of such bills "would infringe federal constitutional rights, including the free exercise of religion and the freedom of contract."

It is still too early to estimate the overall impact of the controversy in Texas. For the 50,000 or so Muslims living in the Dallas area, these have not been easy times. Feeling stigmatized, the community has had to fight back to counter the accusations and suspicions.

As for H.B. 562, it looks like the bill will breeze through the conservative Texas legislature, even though it may face some speed bumps later on in court. But whatever its ultimate fate, the bill, helped along by the controversy in Irving, seems already to have achieved a central objective: ratcheting up anti-Muslim fears. According to Andrea Elliott of the New York Times, Mr. Yerushalmi admitted several years ago, referring to similar legislation, "If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would not have served its purpose. The purpose was heuristic--to get people asking this question, 'What is Shariah?' "

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by Nightgaunt on Mon Sep 28, 2015 at 02:17:20 PM EST

You wrote:  "there are no known examples of foreign laws violating fundamental rights."  I guess you meant to say that there are no known examples of such foreign laws being imposed here in the U.S.A.?

Of course, various foreign countries do have laws that violate what most of us would consider to be fundamental rights.  Examples include:  blasphemy laws, the more extreme anti-gay laws, and the Saudi prohibition on women drivers.

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This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (215 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (248 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (96 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (184 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (146 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (145 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (153 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (148 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (125 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (226 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (144 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (84 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (193 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (84 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (109 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (111 comments)

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