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April 21, 2011

Chuck Norris and the Fake Threat of a Sharia Invasion

Walker Texas Ranger, leader of The Delta Force … Sharia law expert? That’s right, Chuck Norris can now add one more fictitious credit to his resume. The actor, Republican spokesman and living internet meme is writing a series of articles for right-wing website WorldNetDaily “on how Shariah is seeping into American society.”

In the first installment of the series (“Holy Week, holy Shariah?”), Norris assures us that he is not an Islamaphobe before launching a convoluted set of “facts” that “prove” we are a hair away from honor killings and women being forced to wear burkas:

  • A Florida judge ruled that a dispute between Muslim parties could proceed under Shariah law. "This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."
  • Alabama is joining a growing list of states that are considering outlawing the use of foreign and religious laws, specifically Muslim Shariah law, in their courts.
  • President Barack Obama's adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, appeared on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Shariah law. Miss Mogahed said the Western view of Shariah was "oversimplified" and that the majority of women around the world associate it with "gender justice." Does she really think that Shariah is the ideological bastion of gender equality?

Norris likens Sharia creeping into our country to “a frog boiled in a kettle by a slow simmer.”

Back in reality, the facts are a bit less alarming. Regarding the case in Florida, contract disputes like this one have long been arbitrated using religious law, including Jewish and Christian law. This doesn’t mean that we’re all going to be forced to wear yarmulkes and keep kosher or that Lent will soon be mandatory for all US citizens. It means that in cases where an agreement drawn up according to religious law is disputed, religious law can be used to arbitrate a decision. The supposed “far-reaching” implications of this case and the legal application of Sharia law end there. One other court decision in which Sharia has been applied in a more dubious way – a New Jersey judge sided with a Muslim man who used it as a defense against being charged with sexually assaulting his wife – was quickly overturned on appeal. Hardly indicative of a creeping threat.

So far, fifteen states in the US have put forth bills to ban international law and Sharia from being applied in their states. The fact that these bills exist does not prove that Sharia (or international law) is an actual threat to our country, only thatsome people think it is, while many of the authors of these bills have acknowledged that they have little understanding of what Sharia is.

Further, the fact that these bills ban international law would have dire unintended consequences, disrupting everything from business with companies overseas to international custody battles, which rely on international laws to settle disputes and enforce contracts. When Spartanburg, South Carolina lured BMW to open a plant there and create jobs, the deal may have gone bust if BMW insisted on German law controlling the contract and international law was banned in the US. Global corporations negotiate the most appropriate law and venue to settle all sorts of disputes, and outlawing options will cut jobs in our economy.

These arguments also unfairly target Muslims (especially US Muslims), implying that the religion of Islam is an evil force and must be stopped. This perception plays right into the hands of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, who seek to promote the false narrative of a war between the West and Islam for their own gain. The threat that Sharia poses to the US is just as imaginary, and risks alienating Muslims around the world, especially here at home. This is a risk we cannot afford to take.

Norris’ article is fearmongering, and not even at its best. Rather than address the very real dangers we face as a nation, Norris and other alarmists seek to root out and expose a nonexistent threat. To do this, they use fiction to appeal to our worst instincts and fears. Sharia law may make a convenient bogeyman, but now more than ever, we need to eschew fearmongering and focus on the real threats to our national security. We need to fight this kind of blind fear with facts. For a good overview of what Sharia actually is, you can check out the Center for American Progress’ issue brief, Understanding Sharia Law.

And please Chuck Norris, go back to doing what you do best: fighting bad guys in Texas and selling exercise equipment.

Send your representatives a letter urging that they say no to the new McCarthyism.