Editorial: GOP's anti-Sharia plank offensive, unnecessary


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Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a man many pundits consider to be a strong contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, took the stage at the Iowa GOP convention this past weekend and uttered a standard GOP talking point. “America did not create religious liberty, religious liberty created America,” Jindal said to a packed house at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.

This line has become de rigueur in the GOP, stemming from right-wing opposition to gay marriage, the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and general reproductive rights for women, all of which, in the minds of the GOP’s most prominent voices, constitute an unconscionable violation of the constitutional rights of Americans who oppose such measures on religious grounds.

The Iowa GOP delegates, however, adopted a measure this weekend that would seem to contradict Jindal’s call for both the respect of religious liberty and its central place in American iconography. Jason Noble of the Des Moines Register has reported that, in a 404-401 vote, the Iowa GOP voted to include a plank that calls for feverish opposition to the “recognition of Sharia law, foreign law, and international law.”

Besides the problematic assertion that the United States shouldn’t follow international law set forth by the United Nations (such as the genocide conventions that we are signatories to) the most disturbing aspect of the plank is the stated opposition to “Sharia law,” which we believe is a clear dog whistle to the racist, Islamaphobic trend in American politics and is itself a threat to the religious liberty the party claims to care so much about.

It should be noted that Sharia, a legal framework that bases its legitimacy in the Koran, is not a monolithic entity. In other words, there is no such thing as a single “Sharia law.” “Sharia law” changes from place to place. Also, as Al-Jazeera America’s Wajahat Ali has noted, Sharia is much more concerned with the laws of personal religious observance rather than national policy.

Declaring one’s opposition to Sharia is unnecessary and dated. Perhaps the real reason that this plank has been adopted is to appeal to Islamaphobes who are terrified of the existential threat of an Islamic dominated America that never seems to materialize (only 0.8 percent of the country self-describe themselves as being Muslim).

This is partly motivated by pure, garden-variety racism, because a majority of American Muslims are either South Asian or Arab (60 percent, according to the State Department). It’s partly pure ignorance, because many Americans, post-9/11, see Islam as a violent religion, hell-bent on killing as many “infidels as possible.” You can see this in the opposition to the Islamic community center near the former site of the Twin Towers in New York (erroneously referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque”), when many Republican politicians, including former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, referred to the community center a “symbol of Islamic conquest” over the United States, a truly offensive notion.

It’s unfortunate that the Republican Party in Iowa, the first state to have a building built specifically to house a mosque (located in Cedar Rapids) and a state that prides itself on its commitment to civil rights, religious liberty, and tolerance, would include such a blatantly racist and bigoted plank as part of its core principles. We urge the Iowa GOP to reconsider this shameful plank in its platform.

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