The recent attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar by Fox New pundit, Jeanine Pirro, is just the latest in a series of attempts to discredit and intimidate a powerful Muslim woman who is deeply loyal to the U.S. Constitution and the United States.
In an inexplicable tirade, Pirro thought it appropriate to address the Democratic Party, claiming that since Ilhan’s “anti-Israel sentiment doctrine” isn’t rooted in the Democratic Party, it must be a direct result of her faith, continuing on to question whether “her adherence to this Islamic doctrine [of the hijab] indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which is in itself antithetical to the United States constitution.”
Claiming that a hijab implies a lack of loyalty to the Constitution has no logical basis. tweet
Ilhan Omar’s choice to wear the hijab is protected under the First Amendment. To suggest that she is unaware of the freedom that she has to dress according to her faith in a country that is currently waging a war on the followers of Islamic ideals is insane. Obviously, Rep. Omar is smart enough and patriotic enough to make it to the House of Representatives. To suggest that her hijab puts her in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution reeks of an attempt to ostracize and otherize a woman who stands firm in her beliefs, even though they do not line up with a dominant, homogenous ideology.
Claiming that a hijab implies a lack of loyalty to the Constitution has no logical basis. This attack on Rep. Omar’s patriotism is pure and simple Islamophobia. In fact, the ongoing narrative surrounding “Sharia law” is an Islamophobic attack which is based on ignorant and misguided fears and stereotypes about Islam which misrepresent Sharia law.
Sharia is basically a term that refers to moral guidelines for Muslims. In Muslim countries, Sharia guides laws, but the correct term is not actually “Sharia law,” but “Islamic” law. What needs to be remembered is that the entire system of Islamic law that existed from the time of the Prophet up to colonialism was destroyed by colonialism, and what we see today is a result of colonial era attacks on Islam and Muslim countries. The way Islamic law and Sharia law is viewed through the lens of right-wing pundits cannot be separated from that historical reality. The ongoing a-historicism and historical amnesia that so fundamentally characterizes the narrative about Islam and Muslim-majority countries is key in the entire discourse surrounding “Sharia law,” and Islamic law in general.
Unfortunately, there has been a significant amount of legislation introduced to support this construct. Since 2010, 201 anti-Sharia law bills have been introduced in 43 states across the country. In 2017 alone, 14 states introduced an anti-Sharia law bill, with Texas and Arkansas enacting the legislation. The widespread misrepresentation of what Sharia even is speaks to the deeply Islamophobic nature of this “Anti-Sharia Law” movement. The founder of this movement, David Yerushalmi, has said,” If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose. The purpose was heuristic — to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”
For Yerushalmi, the idea of what “Sharia” is goes along with the portrayal of all Muslims as misogynistic terrorists. Fundamentally, the anti-Sharia law movement in the U.S. is fueled by intensely Islamophobic groups and their desire to push all Muslims to fringes of society. Thus, Jeanine Pirro’s attack on Rep. Omar as a supporter of “Sharia Law,” and not the Constitution is little more than a reflection of the manufactured concept of Sharia law, merely a “heuristic device” to attack Rep. Omar as a Muslim woman.
Happily, Fox News, in a rare act of speaking out for social justice has denounced Pirro’s comments as not reflecting the views of Fox in general, and Rep. Omar has thanked them for this. Whether this public rebuke results in any action is debatable, but this is a conversation for another time.
Going forward, we need to continue to raise awareness that the attack on “Sharia law” is merely a “heuristic device” intended to marginalize and attack Muslims and Islam. It is pertinent that we avoid even engaging in the discussion without clarifying that the entire conversation is based on a misrepresentation of the concept of Sharia itself. Knowing the willingness of Islamophobes to misrepresent our traditions, it is a small and logical step for them to attack a Muslim women who wears hijab with their misleading and warped claims.
With all the knowledge we have of the extreme dangers of the hate speech we saw from the likes of Jeanine Pirro, and the tendency of political figures to frame their hatred for minorities in terms of lack of patriotism, or threats to national security or identity, it cannot be emphasized enough how serious these attacks are. tweet
It is important to contextualize these attacks in history, just as the people engaging in these attacks want to avoid acknowledging historical realities. When Hitler rose to power, his first act was to suspend civil rights for Jews. He invoked emergency sections of their Constitution that revoked freedom of the press, assembly, and speech for the Jewish population. The deep-seated anti-Semitism of the Nazis sees some significant echoes in the Islamophobic rants echoing in the U.S. today. The idea that our right to follow our religion is somehow “antithetical to the Constitution” is the same threat that the Jews were accused of posing to the German state. The “Muslim Travel Ban” is a direct echo of Nazi policies against the Jews that stopped Jewish immigration to Germany. Trump has even proposed a Muslim registry at one point, suggesting that all Muslims need to be registered to protect the United States from the threat we pose.
With all the knowledge we have of the extreme dangers of the hate speech we saw from the likes of Jeanine Pirro, and the tendency of political figures to frame their hatred for minorities in terms of lack of patriotism, or threats to national security or identity, it cannot be emphasized enough how serious these attacks are. They are a part of a larger Islamophobic narrative that is incredibly dangerous.
We already have internment camps on U.S. soil for immigrants. China has placed the Uighurs in concentration camps. I’m not saying that this is what lies ahead for us as U.S. Muslims, but it is chilling and terrifying that the narrative continues to progress the way that it has. Many people did not predict that Trump would become president. We have not predicted many of his actions. As a result, we cannot push back too strongly on rhetoric like Pirro’s.