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Quite the World, Isn't It?

American idiocy, and Sharia law

When I was writing The Fear Within, wedged in the back of my mind was that as venally idiotic as some of our political figures were in the 1940s and 1950s, at least those days were behind us. Now it looks like our national fear is back. But instead of torching civil liberties over political beliefs, the modern flashpoint is religion.

Tennessee legislators are pushing a bill that would make observing Islamic Sharia law a criminal offense punishable by 15 years in prison. Its ostensible aim is those who would act to replace the U.S. government with an Islamic state. Specifically, the proposed law says "knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the United States government and the government of this state through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions by the likely use of imminent criminal violence and terrorism with the aim of imposing sharia on the people of this state."

Note that acts are not required, just belief. The parallels to the 1940 Smith Act, which was the basis for the prosecutions I wrote about, are eerie. Chillingly so. Then, membership in the Communist Party was, according to the federal government, a de facto effort to violently overthrow the U.S. government, since theoretical communism called for the violent destruction of the capitalist state. This law would say the same thing about followers of Sharia law - whose interpretations vary widely. Belief is tantamount to action, and thus illegal.

Yes, fundamentalist Sharia law carries some draconian elements. But so does the Christian Bible - eye for an eye, anyone? Modern, mature societies and religious observers are capable of placing such outdated directives within their proper historical context. When was the last time an adulterer was stoned in Tennessee? Or a thief's hand cut off? Or, conversely, a mosque burned or an abortion provider attacked by Christian fundamentalists? (For the record, I'm an atheist).

This is religious intolerance at its most naked, an attempt to codify hatred. Burning mosques apparently isn't drastic enough in Tennessee, a place where crimes in the name of Christian extremism occur far more often than crime rooted in Sharia. The problem lies not in the faith, but in extremism, regardless of the religion at hand. And we have laws governing extremist acts in our criminal codes.

These proposals to criminalize the expression of religious faith are preposterous. We're being governed by Chicken Littles, though in truth we do keep electing these bozos, so we only have ourselves to blame. And you have to wonder whether we should redraw some of our existing legal lines. Could it be a hate crime to propose a law that would criminalize faith?
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